Red-Light Cameras: Are You Willing to Pay?

The intersection –– or as we refer to it, the “Danger Square” –– is where the largest percentage of multiple car crashes occur. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, twenty-two percent of all crashes in the United States are caused by red-light runners. As a result, there is an increase in cities signing on with companies to have red-light cameras installed.

While there is no question about the high frequency of crashes that take place at intersections, there is widespread criticism about the companies that install and operate the camera systems. As time goes on you will be seeing more intersections with red light cameras (RLC) because they become a “cash cow” for the city.

Everyone involved within the municipality that is installing RLC, as well as the companies that manufacture, install, and process the data from the cameras, will say they are doing it for safety. Yet, they promote the shortening of the yellow traffic light cycle, and the lengthening of the red light cycle, both of which contribute little to safely and everything to increase the number of violators.

There are three major companies that provide RLC to cities, and most often they receive a hefty slice of the collected violator fees. One company received 19 million dollars to install RLC at 190 Chicago intersections; during the ten year period of their usage, the company received over 100 million dollars. Can we really say their focus was doing good for the betterment of mankind or that their focus was on reducing crashes?

Let’s analyze a few things:

A traffic light changing from green to yellow presents a tipping point for the actions a driver will take, or not take –– that is, providing there is a perception of the traffic light, to begin with. One of three actions is likely to occur during the lights transformation: a driver sees the yellow light and has a mindset to stop; a driver sees the yellow light as an opportunity to increase speed to get through the intersection; a driver sees the yellow light as merely a continuation of the green light and pays no attention to the changing condition.

Now, I am not talking about drivers that go blowing through the red light with total disregard for the danger that everyone is exposed to by highly callous high-speed behavior. I am talking about the average driver who pays little attention to the yellow light as a signal to clear the intersection. I’m talking about the driver who ignores the yellow light and only thinks of stopping when the light has turned to red.

The reason all drivers need to be more attentive to yellow lights is to change the mindset into a state of readiness to perceive a green light that is changing to yellow and have time to control traffic to the rear. The duration of the yellow has a lot to do with whether or not a person will be detected as a violator by a red-light camera.

Now get this:

There is no differentiation in fines levied for those who just missed the end of the yellow light compared to those who willfully go blowing through a red light at high speed. The fine and administrative add-on fees for running a red light in California is reportedly $490 plus the cost of attending a “traffic school” course. Or, a judge may grant a violator the option of performing community service at the rate of $10 per hour, which means 49 hours of service. Amazing! The driver who intentionally failed to spend one minute stopped for the red light will be subjected to the option of surrendering 2,940 minutes doing something that may be far worse than sitting for a minute at a red traffic light! The $490 fine and the $50 for traffic school would amount to the driver paying the fine for that one minute at the rate of $32,400 per hour. Do you see how the scale is grossly tipped against you as you try to save one minute at a traffic light? Even when the fine is a more typical $175, as many states levy for running a red light, it equates to spending $10,500 per hour for the purchase of one minute of indifference to conditions at the danger square.

Facts and factors:

There are four factors that determine when and where a vehicle will stop: Perception time, Reaction time, Braking time, and Volition time. Of the four, the one that a driver has the most control over is “volition” time. Volition time is the period of time that one deliberates on the “willingness” to detect and stop for a yellow light. If the yellow light is seen as an opportunity to have control of your vehicle and to save money by not getting caught by the red-light camera, then the proper treatment of the yellow light could be seen as putting gold into your pocket.

Here is how you can change a yellow light into gold. When you approach a green traffic light all you need to do is have the “volition” to stop at a certain point if the light changes to yellow before you get to within two seconds of the intersection. If you are at the two-second point, which we refer to as the point-of-no-return, then you are committed to going through the intersection and you will never receive a ticket by the red light camera being activated and not need to pay upwards of $10,000 per minute. The red light camera will only activate if you are entering the intersection when the light is red. What constitutes entering the intersection is when your vehicle passes the stop line.

If you are intent on running red lights, then nothing but pure luck can prevent you from getting into a crash and not getting caught by a red-light camera. However, if you are like most drivers, and not aggressively attempting to beat a red light, then you may need to change your habits on how you approach a green traffic light. In addition to making certain the “danger square” is clear, be prepared for the green light to turn into gold.

You are in control:

What will make you feel better: stopping at the traffic light and waiting one minute for the light to change; or, getting caught by the RLC and having to pay hundreds of dollars? In the latter case, there are two things you will feel bad about: getting caught and wasting money for no good return. So, tilt the game in your favor so that you are always the winner. Think of the green light as ready to change to yellow, so you are never surprised. If it does turn to yellow, you are prepared to save yourself from paying a costly fine. If the light stays green, you will have more awareness of conditions in the danger square, and you didn’t have to make a stop. Either way, a win-win situation, and you are in control!

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