Ladies' Home Journal's Red Light Problem

The August issue of Ladies Home Journal includes a scary article (not online, alas) with the headline, "A New Killer Road Risk," and the subhead, "Read This to Save Your Life!"

The "risk" isn't all that new—the article is about red light running.  In it, author Kelly King Alexander parrots bullet point arguments from auto insurance groups and government officials, data from online polls of drivers, and anecdotes about how red light running has reached epidemic proportions, then closes with some admittedly sad stories from relatives of people killed by red light scofflaws.

Halfway through the article, there's a box with a header set in bold and all-caps that reads, "WHAT CAN YOU DO?"  The copy inside the box says:

Readers can go to www.stopredlightrunning.com/lhj and click on a form letter urging the federal government to encourage states to adopt automated enforcement laws to reduce red-light running.  The letters will be compiled by the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running and sent to the White House early in 2009.

Neither the magazine article nor the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running website offer specifics on just how the federal government might "encourage" the states to adopt red light cameras, but the best bet is  that they'll ask Congress to follow the example set in previous attempts to impose traffic regulations on the states—by withholding federal highway money from the states that don't comply.

What Alexander and Ladies' Home Journal don't disclose in the article, however, is that the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running is funded by three private companies: Affiliated Computer Systems, Gatso USA, and Redflex, Inc.  All three are in the automated traffic enforcement business, and all three stand to make millions should the campaign prove successful.  That's a pretty big omission.

The truth about the effects of automated red light enforcement on red light running is actually quite a bit more complicated than Alexander makes it out to be.  She devotes all of two paragraphs to critics of automated enforcement, and mostly just to dismiss them. 

But the most thorough independent study of red light cameras was published earlier this year in the Florida Public Health Review.  That study, which I blogged about last March, included reviews of existing research, and found that most independent studies have found increases in crashes at intersections with red light cameras, including increases in crashes that result in injuries.  It also found that claims of a notable increase in red light runners are exaggerated, and that studies sponsored by insurance companies or done by researchers with ties to insurance companies or government agencies tend to suffer from "research design flaws," and what might be charitably called an incomplete analysis of the data.

One good way to decrease accidents at dangerous intersections is to actually lengthen yellow lights.  But that option tends to drop from consideration the moment cities start tasting the revenue from automated enforcement cameras.  Perversely, the incentive for cities at that point is to encourage red light running, or at least not going out of their way to discourage it.  Several cities have actually been caught shortening yellows after the installation of cameras.

If you're really interested in this stuff,  here's a list of studies in support of red light cameras as provided by the campaign.  And here's a compilation of research that comes down against them.  

But getting back to Ladies' Home Journal, it seems to me the magazine should have disclosed the fact that the campaign it partnered with to nudge its readers to lobby Washington is underwritten by three companies who stand to make quite a bit of money should that pressure result in a new law. It may have also given readers reason to look at Alexander's article a bit more skeptically.

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  • Rationalitate||

    That's pretty despicable...keep us posted as to whether they submit a correction/apology.

  • ||

    I don't aim to be an emperor's new duds type, but can't we assume 99% of everything recommended, urged, sold, pushed, suggested, etc. in that, ahem, august publication is antithesis/unnecessary/irreleant to regular Reason readers?

  • Abdul||

    About time Ladies Home Journal got knocked off their high horse.

    Friggin Ladies Home Journal?

    Seriously, did you come across this because you were in the dentist's lobby and someone had already done the sudoku in the newspaper?

  • ||

    Quick correction: ACS is Affiliated Computer Services, not Automated Computer Systems.

    (my wife used to work there)
    (but not in the division that handles red light cameras, thankfully)

  • ||

    If you are approaching an intersection, and the light turns yellow. You're too close to the intersection to safely stop. Normally, you'd proceed through the intersection. With red light cameras in service it makes sense to hit the gas when the light turns yellow to make sure you get into or through the intersection before the red light. Speed up at the yellow light or jam on the brakes. That's a perverse set of incentives.

  • Elemenope||

    Lamar,

    That's why traffic cameras kill.

  • anarch||

    Taser time! Better 'n lights, better 'n cameras. If only it brought in revenue.

  • Episiarch||

    The whole red light camera scam is one of the more loathsome money grabs to come out of the government in a while. It's so clearly about the money (why else shorten yellows?) that they're having their water carried by LHJ instead of the usual suspects.

    This is one of those things that will generally fail because it affects everyone, and the "it's for the children in intersections" argument is so weak.

  • ||

    Anectodotally, I've observed far more red light running on my morning commute than, say, ten years ago. I'm not talking someone trying to beat a yellow. I'm talking being stopped myself and some clown behind me in the next lane sailing through a light that turned red five seconds before he hit the intersection.
    We don't need no stinking cameras however; let's get the SWAT "heroes" out there enforcing traffic safety instead of busting down doors of alleged marijuana growers.

  • Nigel Watt||

    ...Radley reads Ladies' Home Journal?

  • ed||

    In England there's a yellow light before and after the red light. Evidently Brit drivers require a warning to resume their journeys. Don't ask why. Nanny knows best.

  • Elemenope||

    In England there's a yellow light before and after the red light. Evidently Brit drivers require a warning to resume their journeys. Don't ask why. Nanny knows best.

    I'm gonna go ahead and guess that alerting drivers that they are about to be able to go increases the efficiency of traffic patterns by reducing the dead time between when it is permissible to go and when [nth] car in line is moving forward. With a straight red-to-green system, there is a nasty time/movement compression wave which is evident to pretty much anyone who isn't the first car at the intersection.

  • Episiarch||

    I'm gonna go ahead and guess that alerting drivers that they are about to be able to go increases the efficiency of traffic patterns by reducing the dead time between when it is permissible to go and when [nth] car in line is moving forward

    LMNOP is an excellent driver. Dad lets him drive slow on the driveway. But not on Monday, definitely not on Monday.

  • ||

    OK, I'm as disturbed as everyone else here by the inevitable mental image of Radley reading LHJ, but I'm choosing to believe that he found out about this through a tip, or in the dentist office scenario proposed by Abdul (thanks, Guy).

    Although the LHJ article may indeed generate a few, presumably boilerplate, letters from readers to elected representatives, I don't think that their reader base is terribly active, effective or organized.

    Besides, everyone knows that "Good Housekeeping" rules.

  • anarch||

    why else shorten yellows?



    In LHJland, red light stop for you!

  • Warty||

    You see? This is what happens when you teach women to read.

  • ||

    Stop making fun of Radley for reading Ladies' Home Journal.

    The enemies of freedom lurk everywhere; some infest the corridors of legislative power and some are printed between casserole recipes and lose-10-pounds-by-Labor-Day! articles. When we reap the benefits of his Highlights monitoring, he'll be the one that's laughing. Laughing all the way to the freedom bank!

  • ||

    I don't think that their reader base is terribly active, effective or organized.

    Tell that to those hapless Red Book bitches they pwn'd so hard at the bake sale.

  • Episiarch||

    Stop making fun of Radley for reading Ladies' Home Journal.

    Defending a fellow traveler, NutraSweet? I bet you just can't get enough of the articles about how to drive your man wild in bed.

  • Elemenope||

    Monday is right out. Bad digestion on Monday. Makes use of traffic signals spotty at best.

  • anarch ||

    articles about how to drive your man wild in bed

    Which explains the demand for adventitious driving regulators.

  • Episiarch||

    Ten minutes to Wapner, LMNOP.

    (you're not getting the reference, are you)

  • ||

    I may be going out on a limb, here, but I doubt the LHJ author of that story did very much research at all, and probably doesn't have a clue.

    I only say this from my experience with another fluffy mag, Parenting, which routinely posts idiotic pap just to fill its pages. They call friends and neighbors to get those quotes splashed throughout, and do hardly any research at all. It's been months since I wrote a correction letter to them, and my company has been trying to get them to print a more indepth (and correct) article. What they did was downright dangerous, and they don't even understand it.

    I suspect LHJ is the same way.

  • Elemenope||

    (you're not getting the reference, are you)

    Sadly, no. Wapner is, I imagine, Judge Wapner. Beyond that I'm snookered.

  • ed||

    alerting drivers that they are about to be able to go...

    ...is idiotic.
    If they're not watching for the green, they're not watching for the yellow that precedes the green.

  • ||

    Here in Dallas the #2 revenue camera has a yellow time that is almost a full second shorter than minimum recommended DOT standards.

    The local news did a bit on shortest yellows in the city versus intersections with traffic cameras. They found the cameras are installed at the intersections with higest volume and shortest yellows.

    Here in Dallas, if you don't want a $100 nastygram, if the light turns yellow you SLAM THOSE BRAKES, HARD.

    Funny enough, Dallas has complained about lack of revenue from the cameras - mostly because the camera company is taking all of it. Their solution? Install many more cameras.

  • ||

    [douchebag stand-up comic]

    I've always been dumbfounded by the "Drive Your Man Wild In Bed" articles. I imagine if an honest man would be hired to write the damn thing, it'd just look like this.

    1. Blow-jobs
    2. Blow-jobs
    3. Blow-jobs
    4. Blow-jobs
    5. Blow-jobs
    6. Don't forget the balls
    7. Stay on your side of the bed
    8. Wash your vagina
    9. If you don't want to have sex, just say so, don't lie there like a side of beef and sigh
    10. Shut the fuck up about having to give so many blow-jobs

    [/douchebag stand-up comic]

  • ||

    "Here in Dallas, if you don't want a $100 nastygram, if the light turns yellow you SLAM THOSE BRAKES, HARD."

    Or hit the gas and make it through the intersection. Either way, red light cameras lead to extremes in decision making at the very time when caution should be used.

  • ||

    One of many reasons that I subscribe to Reason Magazine and not Ladies Home Journal.

  • robc||

    LMNOP,

    Here you go

  • ||

    SugarFree, excellent list, but you left out "anal," and maybe "invite your hot friend to join in."

    Just sayin'.

  • ||

    RCD,

    Now, the world don't move to the beat of just one drum,
    What might be right for you, may not be right for some.
    A man is born, he's a man of means.
    Then along come two, they got nothing but their jeans.

    But they got, Diff'rent Strokes.
    It takes, Diff'rent Strokes.
    It takes, Diff'rent Strokes to move the world.

    Everybody's got a special kind of story
    Everybody finds a way to shine,
    It don't matter that you got not alot
    So what,
    They'll have theirs, and you'll have yours, and I'll have mine.
    And together we'll be fine....

    Because it takes, Diff'rent Strokes to move the world.
    Yes it does.
    It takes, Diff'rent Strokes to move the world.

  • Episiarch||

    RC Dean has scooped the NutraSweet. Just admit it, dude.

    Thanks for the link, robc. I thought everyone had seen the movie which began the "play a retard*/get an Oscar" rule.

    * yes I know autistics aren't retarded

  • ||

    Well, I was trying to work in enough blow-job spots. The girls who read and follow articles in magazines like that aren't the brightest CF Bulbs in the pack, you know.

  • ||

    * yes I know autistics aren't retarded.

    They used to be. It's a definition change that is driving the autism epidemic. (That's a good thing, by the way, before someone freaks out. At least they aren't being institutionalized at such a high rate.)

  • Elemenope||

    LMNOP,

    Here you go


    Ah. It's been a while.

  • ||

    Hey you lawyers out there. Find a guy injured in an accident caused by a red-light camera and sue the pants off the red-light company.

    I promise, if I'm on the jury pool, I'll sweat to be impartial, sleep through the whole trial, and then order billions and billions in punitive damages. You get 40%.

    Go for it.

  • ||

    Or hit the gas and make it through the intersection. Either way, red light cameras lead to extremes in decision making at the very time when caution should be used.

    Lamar: In Albuquerque, the red light cameras are also photoradar units. So, you get a ticket for speeding, or running the light, or sometimes even both.

    I tend to avoid intersections with them. I've told businesses on those roads that I don't go to them anymore. I dunno if that'll do any good, but I figure more such might get them to complain to the city council.

  • ||

    "Lamar: In Albuquerque, the red light cameras are also photoradar units. So, you get a ticket for speeding, or running the light, or sometimes even both."

    That's sad, but there's no reason to think that hitting the gas pedal close to an intersection will result in a speed violation.

  • ||

    Halfway through the article, there's a box with a header set in bold and all-caps that reads, "WHAT CAN YOU DO?"

    Umm, I'll take "Use your brakes appropriately" for $400, Alex? Seems a lot simpler than writing your representative.

    Talk about overlooking the obvious.

  • bob||

    I'm actually rather fond of traffic signal cameras.

    More specifically, I like the little splatty sound they make when you nail one with a paint ball.

  • ||

    I'm just "hitting and running" here like a good boy, but surely one of my esteemed associates above has been crying out for me to come down hard. Here I come... Stand back...
    Traffic signals were a bad idea from day one. They are nothing more than S&M paraphernalia for traffic engineers to get their rocks off on us.
    I'm old enough to remember and have an affection for dusty, dirt roads... Getting government into the transportation business in the first place was more of the same kind of traffic signal obsession, and the early perverts knew well where they were taking us.
    It's the duel betwixt Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr over and over and over. (Hamilton is the zombie still.)
    Drivers of the world! Rise up! Cast off your personal modes of transportation! Stop paying that gasoline tax!

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