The ultimate test of whether red-light cameras are for safety or revenue

In California, Assembly Bill 612 which would add 1.0 second to the duration of the yellow lights at intersections equipped with red-light cameras. This approach has proven to be an extremely effective way to increase intersection safety, reducing accidents by as much as 40 percent. The bill passed the House and is under consideration in the Senate Transportation & Housing Committee.

This is the ultimate test of whether politicians’ claims that they pass traffic laws for safety and not for revenue can be believed.  Clearly, safety and revenue are at odds in this bill. If one second is added to the yellow cycle the revenue from red-light tickets generated by the cameras will decline, but safety will be improved.

If you’re as cynical as I am you already suspect this bill will be killed in the California Senate.  But if you’re not sure, consider this additional information that perhaps you aren’t aware of.

When red-light cameras are initially installed they often fail to generate enough revenue to pay for themselves.  Faced with either removing the cameras or finding a way to make them generate more ticket revenue, what do politicians and bureaucrats do?  What you do when you try something you for which you had high hopes and it fails?  I’ll bet you first troubleshoot the problem and try to fix it.  Especially if an easy fix presents itself.

There is an easy fix for red-light cameras that fail to pay for themselves.  Shortening the yellow cycle will deliver more loot immediately.  Making the yellow cycle longer improves safety because fewer cars run the light. Conversely, more cars run the light when the yellow cycle is shorter.  Imagine eliminating the yellow light entirely.  The first several cars closer to the intersection than their stopping distance would run the light.  Every intersection would immediately become a killing field.  The number of seconds for the yellow cycle is always directly proportional to the ability of all traffic to stop in time to avoid a collision.

That’s why a shorter yellow cycle increases both revenue and crashes and a longer yellow cycle reduces both revenue and deadly T-bone crashes.

Would our honorable elected officials subject people to deadly accidents for increased revenue? Dozens of jurisdictions across America have been caught doing just this. For all that are caught and exposed, how many go unnoticed?  The accidents certainly don’t go unnoticed, but the red-light camera’s contribution to the problem usually does until someone gets suspicious and runs a test.

So the California Senate will now have to choose between safety and revenue.  With this additional information, what do you think their choice will be?  Even if they pass this bill and it is signed into law can anyone be sure the yellow cycles will really be increased?  After all, it’s California.

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