All about the Benjamins!
I am not advocating running red lights in my opposition to red light cameras.
Heck, I would accept them as a fine idea if they were done properly. But they won't be and they never have been.
Study after study has shown the way to reduce the number of accidents at light controlled intersections is to make the yellow longer and give a brief pause before changing the cross traffic's light green. Absorb that for a second. Giving people a bit more time to get stopped and then giving some time for the intersection to clear of traffic before releasing the side traffic reduces the number of accidents more than any other factor.
But red light cameras are not about reducing the number of accidents.
Why do I say that?
I say that because every single article about them mentions revenue generated.
Studies again: They show, over and over, that when first implemented, there's a lot of tickets issued; then over time the number of violations drops to nearly zero. If this was about safety, we'd declare victory at this point. But these cameras always come with a company that processes the tickets and maintains the cameras. If there are no tickets issued, there's no money for the company and (depending on the contract) threaten to take their cameras and go home (with dire warnings about the chaos that will ensue should there be no robotic guardian watching the maniacal drivers) or they collect their fee without the ticket revenue stream to support the expenditures.
What does the municipality that installed the cameras do now?
They invariably shorten the yellow time! Creating a situation where it's more difficult to get stopped safely in time; on purpose to get more money.
Remember what I said about increasing the yellow being the single most effective means for increasing safety at a light controlled intersection? Some places have shortened the yellow so much that you cannot safely stop from the speed limit before entering the intersection.
"But you said the number of violations drops to nearly zero, doesn't that mean there are fewer accidents?"
No, that does not mean there are fewer accidents. That means there are fewer t-bones. What we trade them for is rear-endings. People don't want a ticket for running the light, so they slam on the brakes. With the shorter yellow, they know they don't have much time to get stopped. Think a 2,800 lb Civic can out brake a school bus? I know it can.
While we are talking about accidents... The recent articles on the topic stated that just over 50% of the accidents in Florida occur at light controlled intersections (they infer that it's because people are running red lights, but don't actually say it). Light controlled intersections are not 50% of the intersections, by a wide margin. I could make a statistical case that the lights are causing a disproportionate number of accidents.
If we are going to be honest about this, we also need to look at why people push that yellow and run the red. I've been conducting an experiment. I've been driving the speed limit, accelerating very moderately and stopping when the light turns yellow. At a few key intersections, if I catch the red I will have to stop at the next ten red lights. If my timing is good, and I catch that one light green, I catch the rest of them green along this route as well. Congratulations traffic planners! You have created an incentive to run that key light.
I have also noticed that if I take a detour and sit at one of the cross streets that I am staring at a clear intersection for the entire red light (30-90 seconds). When the glob of traffic that was stopped at the previous light arrives at the intersection, it turns red for them and green for me. Seems to me that the time to let the cross traffic out is during that huge gap.
Let us also add in another observation. People have figured out they are going to have to stop at the next light so they don't bother getting up to the speed limit; they lolly-gag along at 5-10 under. This can be very frustrating.
Now, lets correlate the frustration with the timing. I know that if I'd made that first light green I would not have to stop at the second one. This means there's a much faster than the posted limit speed that will allow me to get back in sequence with the lights and catch the rest of them green. If the traffic in front of me doesn't get up to the limit and pulls the rolling road-block routine, that just means that when I get clear air I have to go even faster to make that next light. Fast enough that there's no way I can stop for the red given the short yellow. Look! An accident!
If this was really about safety, they would have the lights timed so that the huge mass of cars didn't have to stop at every light. They yellow would be long enough so that someone obeying the speed limit has plenty of time to stop. But they don't because this isn't about safety at all, it's about money.
A good third to half the red lights in the greater Tampa area were put there in response to some gruesome accident. One in particular locally stands out.
Where the intersection of Old Highway 54 T's into FL-54. The original plan was to have old 54 dead end where the intersection is now. When they first opened the new section it was simply a stop sign. Then one night around 2am a mother and her two young children stopped at the sign, looked both ways, pulled out to turn left... and were killed when a drunk driving 110 mph broadsided her. So we have a light to keep drunks from driving a buck ten? In addition to the idiot drunk, that section of road was planned with the idea that there was not going to be an intersection there at all, the sight distances suck. The deceased likely never even saw him. The question that should have been asked is not, "why wasn't there a light there?" but "why was there an intersection there?" Guess why the plan was changed. Yup, MONEY! There were a few businesses along that short stretch were 54 used to dogleg. Those businesses lobbied hard to keep that section from becoming a dead end; they said it would hurt their business when people stopped driving past.
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