Cities making red-light cameras more profitable by making them less safe

Discuss

59 Responses to “Cities making red-light cameras more profitable by making them less safe”

  1. takeshi says:

    No more so than Rudyard Kipling, thankfully.

  2. Rickmccl says:

    http://www.motorist.org is going to a different site for me, nothing about driver data. You probably shouldn’t go there without NoScript.

  3. DloPwop says:

    It may be that the stoplight timing is shortened in order to help traffic flow more quickly, and not in fact to raise revenues. I’m in favor of optimizing the system (and opposed to red light runners).

  4. Village Idiot says:

    Y’all can thank me later…

    http://www.phantomplate.com/photoblocker.html

  5. takeshi says:

    Not surprising in the least. As someone also opposed to red light runners, I have to say that the previous comment seems a bit out of touch. This isn’t about shortening the time between red lights, thus improving traffic conditions.

    The amount of time that the light is yellow is the key here… if they wanted to improve traffic flow, the amount of time that the light is green could be shortened. It may not have any effect, but there’s far more green time than yellow throughout the course of a given day. By making the yellow time shorter, two things are accomplished. First, unfortunately, those accustomed to the standard length of yellow time will, by and large, become inadvertent “red light runners” as the result of their unfamiliarity with the abbreviated time, potentially with disastrous results. And second, it will resultantly increase the number of tickets sent out for such infractions. Simple math.

    Let’s hope that there are some class action lawsuits around the corner. People whose family members have been killed by runners of red lights deserve to know what their public officials have been up to.

  6. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Richtherrn, I’ve been in that situation. It was on a street that sees some of the most aggressive driving in Manhattan, and there were three lanes on my side of the road. I was in the center lane of the three, and it was clear all the way to the intersection. The light was yellow, and I intended to stop. In each of lanes to either side of me, there were already two cars stopped at the intersection — in both cases with a private vehicle in front and a taxicab behind it, for a total of four vehicles.

    The two cabdrivers simultaneously decided to pull out from behind the cars in front of them and take the center lane — which, if they had succeeded, would have given them a faster start when the light changed. They were moving like the flippers on a pinball game, and I was heading toward them like the pinball.

    I spotted what they were doing the instant they began to move. It was one of those lightning calculation moments. I can’t claim that I consciously realized that (1.) they were going to run into each other; (2.) their collision was going to block the lane, meaning I was going to have to stop two full car lengths sooner than I’d calculated; and (3.) there was no way I could stop in time.

    I floored the accelerator and dived through the intersection. The light above me turned red as I passed under it. Behind me there was a tremendous crash as the two cabs ran into each other, and at the same moment were rammed by the cab that had been coming up behind me. That third cab didn’t have enough time to stop either.

    I don’t feel guilty about the accident. If the cabs hadn’t been engaging in pointlessly aggressive driving, it wouldn’t have happened. I couldn’t have prevented it. And if I’d braked, I’d have hit the cabs in front of me and been hit by the one behind. All I did was subtract my car from the collision.

  7. Takuan says:

    I love it when that happens

  8. Thad E Ginataom says:

    Road and junction design which is intended to keep traffic flowing increases good attitude to red lights.

    There are London junctions where all you do is sit and wait. This makes everybody impatient, and helps them to become less safe drivers.

    Traffic signals should be fair to vehicles coming from all directions, and, of course, to crossing pedestrians. They are not tools to try to persuade people to leave the car at home.

    Nothing positive has been done on London roads since the Red Routes were introduced maybe twenty years ago to keep main routes clear at busy times. Everything since then has been restriction and constriction.

    Good traffic rules and good traffic design leads to better driving.

  9. Antinous says:

    When I honk at red light runners or at drivers who turn left from the right turn lane, I’m trying to give them a panic attack or a heart attack so that they’ll stop driving. Unfortunately, most of the drivers here can’t hear the horn, can’t see my car and don’t even realize that they’re driving.

  10. gnoodles says:

    Monkeyfraud @ 19: I think you’re missing the key point here. Yes, traffic cameras do decrease fatal crashes, but as you acknowledge, they often do so at the expense of increased property damage crashes. That may be a worthwhile trade off if this was the only option, but as that article notes, there are additional options that can actually reduce both kinds of accidents. Increasing the length of yellow lights has a demonstrated track record of reducing both types of accidents, as does increased “traditional” police enforcement. Either of these solutions (and probably others as well) reduce accidents, but they don’t generate revenue for the cities.

  11. holtt says:

    Red light cameras cause more accidents, and not just because drivers slam their brakes to avoid getting a robo-ticket — also because the optimal money-making strategy for red-light cams is to make them less safe.

    Can we have references on this? It’s a great story but has anyone studied this?

  12. gnoodles says:

    dougrogers @ 21:

    That is a completely different problem, and unfortunately, red light cameras don’t do much to help it. My understanding of how most redlight cameras work is that you will only be cited if you enter the intersection after the light has changed. If you enter while the light is green or yellow, you won’t be cited if you don’t clear the intersection before it turns red. Unfortunately, that means automated enforcement is useless against these sort of infractions. On the other hand a cop writing citations can be extremely effective against both these sorts of offenses, and they actually decrease crashes all around rather than just fatal ones. Seems like the better solution to me.

  13. Robotech_Master says:

    I was a little startled to see that my hometown of Springfield, Missouri was one of the six cities mentioned. It did make a lot of sense, as I had noticed that the yellow lights around here were annoyingly short lately. When I discussed it with my Dad, however, he was not surprised at all—he’s of the opinion that Springfield city government is made up of a bunch of crooks and scoundrels. (Given all the irregularities that a recent state audit of the city government turned up, he’s probably right.)

    If you go to the website that originally broke the story, http://www.motorists.org, and browse around, you’ll find some very interesting reading.

  14. mainja says:

    This has become hot news in Toronto because the city council has just upped the fine from $180 to $500.

    http://www.blogto.com/city/2008/04/green_light_green_light_red_light_camera/

  15. koolkev says:

    I got a camera ticket a few years ago so searched the web and found a site that gives a simple way to determine how long a yellow light is and extensive information on fighting an improper ticket. If you think this is a form of government ‘highway robbery’ Google that. It goes into more detail than motorist and has other useful links as well although it focuses on California but discusses other states as well.

  16. Takuan says:

    I’m not positive about this, but I thought they could only use photographs with one clear suspect. If there are two or more cars in the intersection, they junk the image and charge. The trick then,is to run red lights with several friends.

  17. Monkeyfraud says:

    So some have questioned my earlier posting. I provide some clarifications.

    1. My major point of contention was around persons needlessly trotting out the “safety” pony to justify a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario. From my readings of secondary research summaries, individuals and institutions alike seem hellbent on misrepresenting the data by asserting that, across the board, both injuries and property damage goes up as a result of these cameras. If anyone bothered to research or quote properly, they would find that while property damages and minor injuries tend to rise as a result of camera installations, MAJOR INJURIES AND FATAL CRASHES DECREASE SIGNIFICANTLY. However, the research also suggests that red-light cameras are not a panacea and need to be considered under highly specific contexts. Fair enough.

    So are people just stupid and can’t read properly? I don’t think so. What I really think is that people are looking for any evidence to justify previously held opinions. Why? Well, I’ve already proved it isn’t safety we’re all shook up about so it must be… well… money. So let’s just all say it together, “this has everything to do with money, and little to do with safety”.

    2. Speaking of money, I heartily agree that low-cost options should be sought like increasing yellow light times. Why not? However, is this a strategy that will always work completely in isolation? Are longer yellow lights the silver bullet? My instinct says no and wonders why they can’t be complimentary solutions. Increase yellow light times AND install red-light cameras in problem intersections that fit specific installation criteria.

    3. Naturally this is still going to rile some people up. People who think cameras are a pressing threat to the very fabric of society. To be fair, the question of using more effacious means of enforcement is valid. Why not use an increase in traditional policing to get better results? Unfortunately, this too comes down to cash money ding. Policing is expensive. They have special cars, uniforms, shiny guns, badges, and wages. Even the most ticket happy cop is probably not going to recoup all the money needed to keep him on the streets. So where does that money come from? Municipal revenues aka property taxes.

    So do I think it’s fair that municipalities are choosing less effective means of enforcement that are revenue-positive and shift financial burden from the tax base and onto lawbreakers? Absolutely. Maybe that’s because I drive like an old lady and am sure not to get dinged myself.

  18. Antiglobalism says:

    Money and convenience over safety — haven’t we seen the same thing before? Our society is all about profit and it’s the common man that gets in the middle.

  19. jmigmac says:

    I got a red light camera ticket a few months ago in West Hollywood. Wanna know how long the light was red for? ONE TENTH of a second. $360 fine plus $35 for the online traffic school to keep the points off my record. Answer me this: would a moto popo have caught me?

  20. asuffield says:

    First, unfortunately, those accustomed to the standard length of yellow time will, by and large, become inadvertent “red light runners” as the result of their unfamiliarity with the abbreviated time, potentially with disastrous results.

    I’m not sure about the US, but here in the UK the rules of the road are quite clearly spelled out. When you see a yellow light, you must stop if you safely can. When you see a red light, you must stop, it is not safe to continue. While it’s relatively rare, if you carry on through on yellow when you could have stopped then you can be given a ticket (statutory fine for minor infractions, whatever that is at the time). It is equivalent to rolling through a stop sign without stopping.

    You seem to be implying that the US rule is “a yellow light means that there’s going to be a red light, but you can carry on so long as you get through in time, so hit the accelerator”. If true, that’s a dumb rule, since it encourages people to drive unsafely.

    Given the above, the appropriate duration for yellow lights is determined by the speed limit of the road and the standard table of stopping distances (plus a small safety margin). Making it longer just wastes time, because you have to stop anyway. Making it shorter is obviously unsafe.

  21. Takuan says:

    A far cheaper solution would be one police sniper covering the whole city. Commit a particularly egregious infraction? Instant justice in the form of a thirty ought six round through your windshield.
    It would only take one or two shots every few months to keep people on the straight and narrow. Certainly cheaper in expense, saved medical bills and also quite likely in terms of human life.

  22. holtt says:

    @ #19 POSTED BY MONKEYFRAUD

    I”m with you. Until someone can show me a study that shows an increase in accidents, I call FUD and bullshit on the first paragraph of the original post and also #22 POSTED BY GNOODLES. It’s nice to THINK that’s what happens, but until someone shows me some real studies proving it, it’s just FUD, and I don’t mean Elmer.

  23. antfarmer says:

    The story was wrongly attributed to leftlanenews.com when in fact LLN was just referencing the National Motorists Association research at http://www.motorists.org/blog/red-light-cameras/6-cities-that-were-caught-shortening-yellow-light-times-for-profit/
    The NMA is located in Waunakee Wisconsin, and for those who want to know more about the original research, they can read the article mentioned or contact the NMA at nma@motorists.org or (800) 882-2785.
    The leftlanenews article that BoingBoing links to refers only to the motorists.org website but fails to mention the name of the National Motorists Association.

  24. Nick D says:

    I sympathize with you, Emma.

    “It has gotten so bad that I will not go immediately after the light turns green, because there is a very good chance that there is someone running the light.”

    Whenever I stop at a yellow or red but the car next to me runs it, I lay on my horn. Pavlovian responses being what they are, I’m pretty sure it scares the hell out of that driver. And it gives me a chuckle!

    “Turning left on a yellow is practically impossible, with no more than one car getting through….”

    Safe drivers don’t turn left on yellow, so no big loss there.

    The “I’m waiting in the intersection on a yellow, and I’ll turn when I have the red” maneuver is no longer considered a proper or safe way to make a left at a light. Go figure. Oddly enough, the correct maneuver is to wait until you have the green light!

    Drivers like the ones you describe above need to grow up and get over themselves and their “me first” attitude. I hate cameras, though. What we need are more traffic cops at the high risk lights, not more machines.

  25. Takuan says:

    Aha! Ha! Ha! Have at you sir! Engarde!

    http://www.motorists.org/photoenforce/home/studies/

  26. takeshi says:

    @ Teresa:

    I don’t think it’s inconceivable that being startled by a horn could cause someone to die, directly or not. What you are suggesting is that, if someone had a pre-existing condition then Nick wouldn’t have anything to do with their death, which is absurd. Of course he would. If the sound of the horn startles the individual into a panic attack (which has, in fact, happened to some people) it stands to reason that the physical honking of said horn had something to do with it.

    So, our old Uncle Jeff may have had a heart condition, but how could young niece Emily be blamed for his death when all she did was jump out of the laundry hamper, screaming at the top of her lungs and wearing a freaky gorilla mask? Sure, maybe Emily had no knowledge of her uncle’s condition, but her actions led to his death. Accidents do happen, assuredly, and it’s best to do what one can to prevent them, no? The sound of a horn is startling, and not just to people who have a predisposition to seizures and spontaneous limb atrophy disorder. That said, my only beef is with his irresponsible use of the horn. That is to say, the fact that he is using his horn when no danger is imminent could be interpreted as an unlawful or illegal use of the device. Add to that the fact that he freely admits to having used the horn to alert other drivers of a COMPLETELY LEGAL activity (“running” a yellow light) and you have some additional liability concerns.

    Of course, I’m not implying that he shouldn’t use the horn responsibly. I am encouraging anyone and everyone to do so. The fact that the horn exists does not demand misuse, however. And as I see it, honking at people who “run” yellows seems like a dumb idea, but it’s everyone’s right, I guess, unless there are some wacky laws in place that prohibit horn abuse. I would imagine there are, and certainly they would be as open to interpretation as some of the yellow light laws. But even if you weren’t responsible, wouldn’t it just *feel* bad to know that you’ve contributed to someone else’s death? Even if you weren’t the overly self-blaming type, I can’t imagine it makes the situation any better to say “oh well, the guy / girl died, but they had a heart condition so I had nothing to do with it.”

    Granted, my illustration was somewhat extreme, and I wasn’t trying to give Nick the impression that I don’t have the utmost sympathy… I have been in several traffic accidents that weren’t my fault, but if we are to be fair, people honking their horns arbitrarily to alert other drivers of a mistake they didn’t make is every bit as zany as “running” yellow lights. If the light’s still yellow when you’ve entered the intersection, the only people getting broadsided are the ones who’ve jumped the gun on their own red lights.

  27. takeshi says:

    @ Antinous:

    I wasn’t saying that you shouldn’t want to give RED-light runners heart attacks. Mandatory IQ testing for motorists is the only way.

  28. radarhunter says:

    Several counties have spent billions installing these camera devices, but why?
    Revenue.
    Several studies show that these cameras not only increase accidents but don’t reduce the number speeders / red light runners. There are several different ways to reduce these violations that don’t include a set of 15 million dollar cameras… They aren’t even real tickets… you don’t have to pay them and they are dropped after 120 days of violation… Several schools around the U.S. are struggling to get by, dropping programs, losing credibility, and we are spending money on these ridiculous cameras.

    Radar Hunter
    Photo Radar

  29. bardfinn says:

    I live in Dallas.

    I gave up driving in Dallas years ago. The stress was terrible.

    Drivers pack intersections during congestion, causing gridlock.

    I have noticed (I take public transit) that the red light cameras in Dallas and suburbs have been put up in intersections where gridlock often occurs during congestion.

    Whether it is failing to yield right of way, failing to allow a lane change for a properly signalling vehicle, or failure to even notice other vehicles – Dallas has a very high percentage of aggressive, selfish drivers.

    Our city council is also staffed by a band of merry criminals – our Mayor named his campaign finance treasurer to chair the public transit board – who promptly forged legal documents to avoid repaying debts, arranged mafia-style secret deals with supporters of the campaign for access to public contracts with the public transit board, and when these facts came to light, was first charged with a mere misdemeanor and then later apparently committed a murder-suicide pact with her husband. And that’s merely the most recent scandal! Most of the city council have been investigated by the FBI for making or knowing about secret sweetheart real estate development deals, one former councilman has been indicted (and I seem to recall convicted or plead out) for collusion to fix taxi fares and rig taxi licensing, and the bond money we have collected over the past decade and a half to build a park in South Dallas has been hijacked to create developments “more in the public interest”: Translation, more taxable things such as a toll road. The city CFO “discovered” millions of dollars misplaced in several accounts and the city jail has lost people long enough for them to need hospitalisation and was closed by the Feds for being incredibly filthy. And that’s just the past few years.

    Dallas – without a doubt – illegally shortened the duration of the yellow lights to bilk citizens out of money; Nothing could move our bureaucracy to do something for the sake of the citizenry without lining some politician’s pockets.

  30. gnoodles says:

    holtt @ 28:

    You might want to RTFA before commenting. The article linked in the OP is only a summary but the link to the full article has been posted previously (see post #8). But even ignoring that, the guy you say you agree with actually posted a link to a study acknowledging that rear-end accidents increase significantly when red-light cameras are installed. As far as longer yellow times reducing those accidents, such studies do exist. The fact that you are unaware of them doesn’t matter much, especially when you are unwilling to do even a token bit of reading. In addition to the original article, and the link that Takuan posted above, you should also see http://www.motorists.org/photoenforce/home/guidelines-identifying-treating-locations-red-light-running-problem/ which specifically addresses how longer yellow lights increase safety at intersections (though unfortuantely, at the expense of revenue for the city and, often, the private company who runs the red-light camera program).

  31. Avram says:

    Asuffield, did you ever see the 1984 movie Starman? In it, an alien deduces traffic rules from watching an American drive: “Red light stop, green light go, yellow light go very fast.”

  32. Takuan says:

    hasn’t anyone devised a truly effective anti-flash licence plate cover yet? Also,how many watts does a a laser have to be to successfully destroy the image target chip in the camera?(allowing for poor angle since you obviously don’t want to be standing right in front)

  33. takeshi says:

    @ NICK D:

    I can understand your frustration, but how much of a chuckle would you get if the person you honked at had a heart condition or suffered a panic attack, careening off the road and killing innocent bystanders? As concerned as you are with traffic safety, I’m surprised that you regard the horn as your soapbox, and not a preventative measure. I mean: if someone “runs” a yellow light, is it really your responsibility to reprimand them, even if the law is unclear on what the correct procedure at a yellow light should be? By honking at someone who “runs” a yellow, you are lashing out, based solely on your misinterpretation of the law.

    @ DOUGROGERS:

    Actually, yellow doesn’t “mean” anything. By saying “don’t enter the intersection if you can’t clear out of it,” you admit that it open interpretation. Who evaluates the situation and decides? You’re not in the car with these people. If left to drivers’ best judgments, I’m not sure that any of us would last too long on the road. The point is, the language of the law is imprecise, and there is no definitive answer for what action one should take when approaching a yellow light.

    This is true because one necessarily has to take several factors into consideration when making their split-second decision. How fast am I going? How fast is the guy/girl behind me going? How close are they to my bumper? How close am I to the intersection? So, no, it’s not so black and white. You might as well say that a yellow light means “get ready to stop if you can,” or “hey, bud, a red light is coming, and now you must decide your fate,” but the very imprecision of the definitions offered here of what a yellow light “means” are irrefutable proof that it’s not so simple.

    I agree, if a person can safely stop, they should, but the language of the law is murky at best, and, as I pointed out above, in relation to California’s wording, it is often utterly lacking in any kind of descriptiveness, or proscription, confusing or otherwise.

  34. holtt says:

    Takuan, damn your rapier whit and internet search skills! Thanks though. Ironically I’ve gained a kneejerk “Must be FUD” reaction to a certain number of BoingBoing posts.

    /me slaps knee back into temporary submission

  35. Georgia Tills says:

    re: #10 Takuan

    It’s call Never Washing Your Car, a most environmental solution too.

  36. Takuan says:

    ah yes, the old “ah wuz jest fohr bah fohring yestiddy, orificer” defense, most excellent.

  37. Takuan says:

    yes, I have that effect on people.
    Rapier”? first time anyone has called my dung-filled bladder-on-a-stick a rapier, but OK.

  38. Crunchbird says:

    ASuffield, the actual laws in the United States are as you describe them for the UK: if you see a yellow light, you are supposed to stop. However, in practice things work much more in the “dumb” way you described later in your post. If you actually follow the law and stop before the light is fully red, you’ll frequently get honked at by the people behind you, and possibly even get run into. We’re all in such a desperate hurry to get where we’re going, don’t you know . . .

  39. wynneth says:

    @31: Wow. Try Lubbock. Same thing. I always preferred driving in Dallas, people seemed MORE likely to let you in their lane, etc. But then, I always take the freeway EVERYWHERE. I figured it was a survival of the fittest effect, you learn on the freeway that you have 3 seconds to decide whether you would like to be cordial and allow a traffic maneuver, or die in a horrible wreck. I’ve always thought the line in Texas East to West was Abilene. When you cross thru the city going West, traffic intelligence decreases, as you head East it increases.

    @All – google Lubbock TX red light cameras. It’s a huge boondoggle, I’m told they actually revoked the law but the cameras are ?some reason? still up. What reasons would a …perfectly trustworthy… government have for leaving up cameras that are …out of use…

    @Takuan – Actually I’ve read multiple ways of eliminating the license plate issue. One was with a special type of high reflective covering that was clear yet reflects light so highly even a flashlight makes it virtually impossible to read. I would suggest using something I believe I saw on boingboing about using l.e.d.s to disrupt the cameras ability to obtain an image. Something about using l.e.d.s that render any object within their circle a white blotch.

  40. Emma says:

    As a driver in Toronto (where there IS a delay between one light turning red and the other turning green) I can say that green light delays are NOT the answer. At least, not for normal traffic. We don’t have too many red light cameras, yet we do have the delays – this means that people know that they have an extra second or two of red light, and run red lights as well as yellow. It has gotten so bad that I will not go immediately after the light turns green, because there is a very good chance that there is someone running the light. Turning left on a yellow is practically impossible, with no more than one car getting through, and usually after the other light has turned green (hence my waiting after the light turns green) because so many people have gone straight through the yellow and red lights. It has caused lots of accidents, mostly with pedestrians – I have had quite a few close-calls as a pedestrian, just from walking when the light turns green, and having someone running the red or turning left almost hit me. And I usually get honked at!

  41. takeshi says:

    @ ASUFFIELD (and others):

    Traffic laws in the United States are often confusing, and they depend on the state in question. I refer you to California Vehicle Code section 21452(a), which makes clear that a yellow light is the precursor to a red light, without explicitly stating that a driver must stop his/her vehicle before entering the intersection.

    There are, of course, divergent interpretations, but in America yellow is the color of caution. Red means stop, green means go, but yellow? Well, yellow could mean all sorts of things, depending on one’s velocity, their distance from the intersection, and so forth. As a footnote, however, no state that I know of prohibits a driver from entering an intersection when the light is yellow… even if that driver is planning to make a left turn, but is unable to do so until after the light has turned red. Still, IANAL.

  42. Takuan says:

    that was for infra red.

    Is Lubbock the real hellmouth?

  43. wynneth says:

    As I see it, at least according to what I read online (which is pretty much only anarchist, leftist, freedom fighter, liberalist, and irate news) most of the world at current is the hellmouth. But I dunno, DisneyWorld has only had a few bad comments lately. It might be the one okay place left. At least until they have that new instant DNA reconciler running at the turnstile.

  44. Gandalph says:

    What a lot of nonsense. The problem is that drivers treat the AMBER (it’s amber NOT orange) as a suggestion rather than an instruction. When you see amber – stop.

  45. Nick D says:

    Phew! For a while it looked like I was going to the hooskow for reckless endangement with a horn. But then they gave me a really good public defender who got me off!

  46. Nick D says:

    “So, our old Uncle Jeff may have had a heart condition, but how could young niece Emily be blamed for his death when all she did was jump out of the laundry hamper, screaming at the top of her lungs and wearing a freaky gorilla mask?”

    Tee hee. This is good. It’s like something out of Roald Dahl!

  47. ROSSINDETROIT says:

    Part of the problem is arbitrary and inconsistent enforcement of traffic laws, as if that needed to be said. Given a decent chance to get away with it a significant number of drivers will cause havoc for everyone with their irresponsible behavior. I’m not an advocate of more cops as the solution to everything, but traffic law enforcement is one area where greater rigor would yield benefits in public safety.

  48. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Takeshi @33, that’s a silly challenge you’ve thrown at Nick @29. ‘What if the driver were on a hair trigger for a heart attack, or a panic attack?’ Easy: he’d have an accident, and possibly die. And it wouldn’t be Nick’s fault.

    Driving is a startling activity: a ball rolls out into the street right in front of you, and a child runs after it. The cars in lane #1 and lane #3 simultaneously decide to move into lane #2. A sheet of snow-turned-ice lifts off the flat top of a truck in front of you and comes down straight at your windshield. There’s a multi-car pileup just over the brink of a hill. There are two drivers being idiots — one’s trying to pass on a curve, the other’s speeding up to keep from being passed — just around the bend. A deer bounds out on onto the highway. You hit a patch of black ice. The unmarked car behind you suddenly breaks out its flashing lights and sirens. And so forth.

    Honking is minor.

    Honking is supposed to be used for warning or alerting other drivers. If you can’t be honked at, you ought not be out on the road. Furthermore, IMO what Nick is doing falls within the bounds of warning or alerting another driver — and yes, it is his responsibility. Good driving is a cooperative activity.

    The longer I look at your reprimand of Nick, the sillier I find it. Someone might be invisibly on the verge of a panic attack, or on the verge of a heart attack? Surely these are extremely rare situations. Are we supposed to live our lives on the assumption that any sudden movements or startling noises might mean death for the people around us? If so, let’s also depilate all our pets, and stop using pepper, wearing scented toiletries, and planting flower beds and flowering trees — people have been known to fatally break their necks while sneezing.

    I don’t think you really believe that. I’d be willing to lay down a wager right now that as a driver, you don’t have a significant commitment to never startling your fellow drivers.

    The question is, why are you taking out after Nick this way? I don’t think you’re just attitudinizing this time; there’s some genuine rancor involved. Are you, perhaps, one of those red-light-running drivers Nick would honk at? ‘Cause if so, neener-neener, and you’ve got it coming.

    Crunchbird @13, I’m with you there. I was once rear-ended after I’d stopped at a light during a fall of wet, slippery snow. The person who rear-ended me turned out to be an off-duty police officer, who jumped out of his car and berated me for making him hit me:

    OFFICER: Why the fuck did you stop?

    ME: The light turned red.

    Sometimes I get honked at by people behind me at toll plazas, because I don’t take off like a jackrabbit after I pay my toll. Since I still suffer the aftereffects of injuries I sustained when someone zoomed out of a toll plaza and ran straight into my car, I don’t have a lot of sympathy.

    When the traffic isn’t too heavy, I’ll sometimes stop, turn around, and pretend to be earnestly confused about what they’re trying to tell me, even to the point of turning off my engine and starting to get out to come ask them about it. They’re stuck in the slot, so until I move, they can’t go anywhere. The one or two seconds of theirs they were honking at me for “wasting” turns into quite a few seconds more.

    Like Nick’s startling honk, the point is to add a little cost to their bad behavior. Not a lot; that would be wrong. Just enough to make them pay attention to what they’re doing.

  49. ill lich says:

    How long before a vigilante with a shotgun starts taking out those cameras?

  50. Takuan says:

    was Roald Dahl really a racist? Please tell me no.

  51. RichTherrn says:

    As a high school physics teacher, I’ve used this idea for many years. The “yellow light” project. My students measure and time various intersections, compute braking and acceleration for cars, take into account reaction time, and use physics to get some data. Using the rule “you can’t be in the intersection when the light is red” and “you can’t accelerate over the speed limit”, they calculate for a given intersection, yellow light time, speed limit, car.. what to do for a specific distance away and initial speed. For some.. a car can safely stop OR speed up and make it through. For many intersections, though, the speed limit is low, or for an old car, the braking is too weak to stop. There are actually many intersections they’ve found that a normal car/driver will already be breaking the law by going the speed limit and being, say 15 meters away. In other words, if they brake they won’t be able to stop, and if they speed up, they will still be in the intersection when the light changes. (see http://www.richtherrn.com/physics/index.htm#11) . My students have written letters and used this info in some great papers!

  52. Takuan says:

    just a can of spray paint on a stick

  53. Nick D says:

    I’m still reeling from being compared to a little girl in a freaky gorilla mask! Not that I haven’t fantasized about it, mind you.

    But seriously…

    I’ve never detected any racism in Dahl–unlike Kipling… but I haven’t read everything he’s written, so I don’t know for certain.

    TAKESHI:

    “That is to say, the fact that he is using his horn when no danger is imminent could be interpreted as an unlawful or illegal use of the device.” (#44)

    So you’re asserting that running a red light does not qualify as dangerous behavior? I know it’s not in the same category as my death-dealing, destroyer-of-worlds horn beeping, but surely it’s reckless?

    And, no, my use of the horn in that circumstance is not illegal. Sorry. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

  54. Monkeyfraud says:

    I have a serious issue with this posting. While I’m not contesting that some municipalities may be tampering with red light camera programs in order to maximize profit, I call bullshit on the claim that red light cameras are a threat to safety.

    The most referenced document I found was “Red Light Running Cameras: Would Crashes, Injuries and Automobile Insurance Rates Increase If They Are Used in Florida?” by Barbara Langland-Orban, Etienne E. Pracht, John T. Large, published by the Florida Public Health Review.

    http://hsc.usf.edu/publichealth/fphr/current.htm

    While the article makes some pretty grandiose claims that suggest red-light cameras lack efficacy and have unintended consequences, the authors have seriously misrepresented at least one of their sources. One of the key studies cited looks at data gathered in Ontario. Being an Ontarian myself, I did some further digging to find the primary data. The Floridian authors claim that “A study conducted for the Ministry of
    Transportation in Ontario by Synectics
    Transportation Consultants (2003) evaluated two
    interventions (cameras and stepped-up police
    enforcement) in six jurisdictions following a public information campaign. Camera intersections had a:
    • 16% increase in crashes, compared to an 8%
    increase at comparison intersections;
    • 2% increase in injury or fatal crashes,
    compared to 10% and 12% decreases respectively at stepped-up police enforcement and comparison intersections.” (pg. 3).

    However, a quick peek on the Synectics website reveals their claim that “fatal and injury
    collisions decreased 6.8 percent while property
    damage only collisions increased 18.5 percent
    at the study sites”.
    http://www.synectics-inc.net/projectSummaries/appliedResearch/documents/45_redlight.pdf

    I’m willing to admit that results may be context-specific, what is true in Ontario may not be elsewhere, but I’m not willing to admit that this is a cause people should get behind. There are plenty of more pressing issues out there, and this stellar example of “bourgeoise activism” reeks of lame self-interest by people who refuse to wait 10 extra seconds for their morning lattes.

  55. Sun Tzu says:

    Why Are The Camera’s Installed in the 1st place?
    The Intersection of Strategy and Measurement–The Red Light Camera. An interesting perspective on the question!

  56. Julian Bond says:

    This seems to me to be a microcosm of the difference between corporate ethics and government ethics and the dangers of confusing the two. It seems inevitable that corporate ethics result in questionable moral behaviour in the pursuit of higher profits and shareholder value. But this is diametrically opposed or at best orthogonal to Government ethics which ought to be in pursuit of social value and the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens. Whenever government decisions are driven by monetary gain (often justified with reference to “free market economics”) those decisions eventually shift into the realm of corporate ethics.

    Or in fewer words, give local government the power to make cash out of prosecuting violations and they’ll eventually and inevitably abuse that power by encouraging violations or making violations impossible to avoid.

  57. Antinous says:

    I think of my horn as a herding device.

  58. takeshi says:

    @ Nick:

    Once again, and for the record, I never said that using your horn to alert a red light runner of their infraction was against the law. Read more carefully, please. I said that using your horn when someone “runs” a YELLOW light (which is not illegal) might constitute a misuse of the device. That is where this stems from. You spoke of honking your horn at someone who “ran” a yellow light. I do read carefully. Here is what you said.

    “Whenever I stop at a yellow or red but the car next to me runs it, I lay on my horn.”

    Horns are to be used conditionally, as I’m sure you will agree, and likewise I’m certain that laws exist that make it illegal to use one with reckless abandon, so in this case I still believe that you would be culpable for using it to alert someone of “running” a yellow light. Makes perfect sense. I understand that you probably meant to say that you “lay on your horn” for people who run red lights, but the way your sentence is worded leaves the reader with the distinct impression that you feel it is your responsibility to honk at people who “run” yellows. So, in the future, please write more carefully, too.

    Also, any overt racism you’ve detected in your perusal of Kipling’s work was probably spoken by a fictional character he created. In 1983, however, in his review of a book called “God Cried,” Roald Dahl claimed that when Israel invaded Lebanon, “we all started hating Jews.” He made several other not-so-friendly remarks about Jewish people at the time, and unsurprisingly it cost him a sizable chunk of his Jewish readership. Was he a racist? Perhaps more so than Kipling, after all.

  59. dougrogers says:

    Emma, #14 has got it. Drivers pack the intersection on Yellows hoping to turn left, and they’re stranded in the intersection when lights change, blocking traffic flowing across. Delays between lights switching compound this, because there’s a short time when lights are red in both directions, and drivers know there’s time to sit in the intersection.

    Yellow means don’t enter the intersection if you can’t clear out of it.

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