NMA’s Weekly ATE Racket Report for May 15, 2018

Compiled by NMA Foundation Executive Director James C. Walker and NMA Communications Director Shelia Dunn

The ATE Racket Report is a weekly feature of the NMA blog. We want to bring the issues of automated traffic enforcement to our supporters in a more coherent up-to-date fashion.

This past week…

More fallout from the Florida Supreme Court Decision supporting Red-Light Cameras.

The Daily Commercial, a newspaper for Lee and Sumter Counties (Leesburg), published an editorial entitled: Don’t Revive Red-Light cameras in Florida.

Orlando’s Sun Sentinel posted a story asking folks what they thought of the ruling (most are seeing red). The editorial page went further and said that the judges got it right and that home rule was correct with regards to local red-light camera programs. ATE Racket Report Editor James Walker wrote an editorial to rebut which was posted online same day and can be read below in James’s commentary section.

  • The Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying received one of seven “2018 Jefferson Muzzles.” This annual award comes from the Thomas Jefferson Center in Charlottesville, Virginia that celebrates the ideals of Jefferson by spotlighting those who would censor free expression. The Board received the award because they fined Beaverton, Oregon resident, Mats Järlström $500 for using the title engineer after he repeatedly challenged Oregon’s traffic-signal timing formula and criticized red-light cameras.
  • In Texas, the Denton Record-Chronicle wrote an investigation piece on the use of city funds for police overtime from reviewing red-light camera videos. The city Finance office has said that the city might have paid the OT from the general fund instead of the income generated from the red-light cameras which is against state law. The newspaper has since written an editorial asking the city council to study the program carefully to make sure that the funds generated from the ticket program is just about the money. The city council takes up this issue on May 22.

Wait and See

  • In California, the city of Oakland has moved forward a bill that seeks to limit surveillance technology as ‘smart cities’ come into focus. Neighboring cities, Berkeley and Davis have recently passed similar measures.
  • A second lawsuit has been filed against red-light cameras in Greenville, North Carolina. The plaintiff is suing the city to refund the $100 for the ticket plus declaring the red-light camera program is in violation of the state constitution. In April, a judge dismissed a similar suit because the plaintiff had not received a ticket. The local paper, The Reflector continues to spotlight red-light cameras as in this report on the April results of the RLC program.
  • The Suffolk County Commissions on Long Island, NY have finally received a study on their red-light camera program. The county has over 100 cameras in place and rake in $30 M with the cams since 2010. The report indicated that rear-end collisions at RLC intersections rose 35 percent in 2016. The Commissioners have been polarized on RLCs and perhaps this study will help change their minds to end the program.

Bad News

NMA’s City and State Lists of RLCs and speed cameras

The NMA has compiled a list of which states and cities are using red-light and speed cameras. This may not be a complete list and please send any additions or subtractions to the nma@motorists.org for updating the list.

Jim Walker’s ATE Commentary of the Week

Rebuttal on red-light cameras: Voters are not in the driver’s seat

From the Florida’s Orlando Sentinel’s Newspaper Editorial section for May 14, 2018.

After reading the Orlando Sentinel’s “Justices rightly leave local governments and voters in the driver’s seat on red-light cameras,” I wonder whether the Editorial Board was aware of several facts about red light cameras and crashes.

First, American Traffic Solutions videos show serious crashes happen when cars violate the lights even after they have been red for several seconds. Cameras don’t prevent these crashes; they just memorialize them. Most of those drivers were heavily distracted or impaired; sending bills to them for the violations in the mail weeks later had no effect on preventing the crashes.

The Florida Department of Transportation has forbidden most cities from setting the yellow intervals long enough for the actual approach speeds of at least 85 percent of the cars since September 2013: Before July 2011, yellow intervals were set for the actual 85th percentile approach speed or the posted speed limit, whichever was greater, because posted limits are often improperly set lower than the safest 85th percentile speed levels. This makes many yellows lights about 0.2 to 0.8 seconds too short for the actual conditions. As a result, many tickets go to safe drivers who violate the red light by less than one second; these drivers clear the intersections during the all-red phase and before the cross traffic can arrive. These drivers present zero crash risks.

Ticket cameras lost 36 of 40 public votes in the United States so far. Ninety percent of the time voters have said no, if they are allowed to vote. But it is very hard to get a vote on a local ballot, so the voters are not actually in the driver’s seat as the Sentinel editorial suggests they should be.

Cities ticket safe, slow-rolling right-on-red turns that almost never cause injuries or fatalities. Federal research shows right-on-red turns were involved in only six one-hundredths of 1 percent of crashes with injuries or fatalities. Most camera tickets for slow-rolling right-on-red turns go to safe drivers who endanger no one.

For three years, the Florida House has voted to ban red-light cameras, but the bills were stopped in the Senate, usually by committee chairs refusing to even hold hearings. If the bills had reached the Senate floor, they would almost certainly have passed, as they did in the House. Once again, the voters have not been in the driver’s seat; a handful of Florida senators have occupied the seat and blocked access to it.

The 2010 bill to authorize red-light cameras in Florida gave 52.5 percent of the funds from each ticket to the state government. The state is not on the hook for paying a penny for red-light cameras. The state leaves it to cities or counties to pay the vendors’ cost. The real purpose for the cameras was to boost state revenues.

At least two annual reports in Florida show crashes increased at red-light camera intersections, leading many people to conclude that increased crash rates are not an indicator of a successful “safety program.”

Red-light cameras are mostly about money for government, not safety. If the voters actually were actually in the driver’s seat, as the Editorial Board suggests they should be, the cameras would be long gone.

James C. Walker is a life member of the National Motorists Association. He is also a board member and executive director of the National Motorists Association Foundation.

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