John Gaver
December 26, 2004


The Houston City Council has voted to approve the installation of CA$H CAM$ at a number of traffic lights around the city. Let's be clear about this. These cameras have nothing at all to do with safety or preventing accidents. They are intended solely as another source of revenue that bypasses taxpayer approval, for the city to squander. Fortunately, many in the state legislature realize that these CA$H CAM$ do nothing to improve safety and are nothing more than an underhanded way for cities to bypass the voters, in order to collect more unapproved taxes and those legislators are now drafting legislation to deny cities the right to use this camera $cam, to make up for the revenue that they have wasted. (More to come on this.)

Proponents of the CA$H CAM$ argue that the cameras will improve safety and reduce accidents, citing flawed studies like that of San Diego, California, in 2002, where the so-called "independent" study largely credits the CA$H CAM$ for a reduction in violations and accidents at intersections where CA$H CAM$ were installed. I have not read every one of the studies that proponents cite, but in every case where I have read the studies, I have found the real truth buried deep inside the study or learned that the study was anything but independent.

In the case of the much touted San Diego study, I found both to be the case. The company that conducted the study was PB Farradyne. In 1999, Parsons Brinkerhoff, the "PB" in PB Farradyne, was one of the largest contributors to a group pushing for increased taxes, to fund, among other things, CA$H CAM$, in Chandler, Arizona. Independent??? I don't think so. Their lack of independence is especially obvious in the fact that they hid the most significant fact way back on page 78 of the study and failed to even mention that fact in the conclusions. The fact that they tried to hide was that, for the study, increased yellow times accompanied the installation of the CA$H CAM$. They were crediting the CA$H CAM$ for the reductions, when the reductions were the result of the increased yellow times. Only about 12 percent of intersections where yellow signal times remained constant showed a decrease in accidents. The rest either saw no improvement or an increase in accidents. In fact, appropriate yellow times are solidly proven to reduce both violations and accidents, not only when the change is made, but over time, as well.

The facts available indicate that cities routinely increase yellow light timing on CA$H CAM intersections, when they know that a study is going on. It seems that they know what works, but since what works, doesn't fill their coffers, they will only use what works to skew their studies, to make it "appear" that the CA$H CAM$ are responsible for reductions in violations and accidents. You can bet that when the study is over, they will shorten the yellow interval again, to boost revenue.

One of the independent studies that the proponents of CA$H CAM$ don't want you to know about, is the Andreassen Study, out of Australia, where this 10 year study (5 years before and after installation of the CA$H CAM$) revealed that, not only did the CA$H CAM$ not increase safety or reduce accidents, but that there had actually been increases in the number of rear-end accidents and "adjacent approaches" accidents on a before and after basis. In other words, people slamming on their brakes, to avoid getting their photo taken, got rear-ended or someone side-swiped another car, trying to avoid a rear-end accident.

On the other hand, many independent studies have shown that appropriate yellow light timing does significantly reduce both accidents and violations at signalized intersections. One study, by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) concluded that drivers were "virtually" certain to stop if their required deceleration rate was less than 8 feet per second squared and "virtually" certain to continue if the deceleration rate required was in excess of 12 feet per second squared. Another ITE study, several years later, came up with almost the same numbers (8.5 and 13 feet per second squared). In other words, yellow light timing should never be so short as to expect a person who is close to the intersection to stop at more than 8 feet per second squared. In most cases, that translates to increasing short yellows by only about 1 to 1.5 seconds.

This is addressed in a 2001 report prepared for the Office of the Majority Leader U.S. House of Representatives, titled, "The Red Light Running Crisis - Is it Intentional?" That report points out that, "Today’s formula for calculating yellow times yields yellow times that can in some cases be about 30 percent shorter than the older formula." It goes on to point out that this shorter yellow time creates what is known as a "Dilemma Zone", where you can't possibly stop in time, nor can you clear the intersection, before the light turns red. It's a no-win situation. By increasing the yellow interval by around 30% (1 to 1.5 seconds) you turn the "Dilemma Zone" into an "Option Zone", where you can either stop in time or clear the intersection. But, one of the most interesting statements in that House report is, "Every study claiming red light cameras increase safety is written by the same man. Before joining the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), he was a top transportation official in New York City at the time the city began looking into becoming the first jurisdiction in the country to install red light cameras." They call him "the father of the red light camera in America".

Proponents of the CA$H CAM$ also don't want you to know about the average 0.5% to 1% error rate, across the nation, where these CA$H CAM$ are used. In other words, one ticket in 100 to 200 tickets sent out, are sent to the wrong person. That doesn't sound too bad - unless you are that 1 in a 100 or so. Then, the headaches that go with challenging that inanimate object, to get the ticket dismissed, are almost as bad as paying the ticket and those are just the identification errors. To put this into perspective, the related error rate for live policemen is nearly non-existent.

Of course, we haven't even considered the cases where the camera fails to show that the person whose license plate was snapped by the camera, was forced through the intersection, lest he be rear-ended. A live policeman would be able to see that. But, all that the camera sees is the after-effect. Of course, by the time you receive the ticket in the mail, you will probably have forgotten the whole incident, so you will not know to tell the court that the car that went through the intersection after you, forced you to abort your stop. Besides, the courts treat that one photo as proof positive and won't hear any excuses, even if you remember that particular incident and know that you were forced through the intersection. That's because the courts usually assume (get this) that you couldn't possibly remember that particular incident so many days later. After all, it means more money for the court and the city.

We ask, why should taxpayers have to pay millions of dollars on an ill conceived CA$H CAM $CAM that is operated at a profit, by a PRIVATE company, who returns only a portion of the fine revenue to the city, when the problems could be easily solved by adjusting the timing of the yellow lights at those intersections? Tell your state legislators to help us STOP the CA$H CAM $CAM.

Suggested Links:

Look at The National Morotists Association, as an excellent source of FACTS about the seriously flawed CA$H CAM$.

If you have already received a CA$H CAM ticket and want to learn how to fight it, then take a look at Ticket Assassin.


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