Civil Liberties

Traffic Camera Shenanigans

|

A television station in Lubbock, Texas found that in eight of the twelve intersections where the city plans to install red light cameras, yellow lights were shorter than the minimum safety guidelines established by the city engineer.

More interesting, that same city engineer promised the Lubbock city council last year that he wouldn't increase yellow light times at intersections with cameras. In a telling moment of candor, Jere Hart told the city council that though the public prefers longer yellow cycles, and though studies show longer yellows dramatically reduce red-light running and collisions, lengthening them would cut into the revenue the cameras are expected to generate.

This isn't the first time a city has fiddled with yellow light timing to boost revenue.

NEXT: Ron Paul Exists!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Where I live, they started with tiny blue lights so cops could more easily ticket red-light runners. That didn’t work (to the tune of several thousand), so they’ve switched plans, wanting to install a revenue generator. Really, who can blame them?

  2. This is why I’m glad that my state’s constitution gives penal fine money to public libraries. Somehow the cops haven’t found a need for any of this crap.

  3. This infuriates me. Traffic engineering is not a matter of opinion. It’s a hard science. Sure, the goals and purpose of a traffic engineering project can be subjective – how much to value pedestrian access and safety vs. vehicular traffic, for example – but how the yellow phase needs to last on a road with a design speed of X is not something you can screw around with.

  4. I suppose this counts as a cost when a community adopts a “low taxes at all costs” philosophy.

  5. People, please stop handle spoofing Dan T. No one could possibly be that obtuse, not even the real Dan T.

  6. You don’t think this sort of thing is more likely to happen in low-tax areas? It signals a certain desperation on the part of local government, doesn’t it?

  7. Hey Danno,

    Cleveland and Akron are among the upper echelon (not the good sense) as far as amount of tax imposed. They both have either toyed with or implemented cameras.

    Would you call Northern Virginia and DC “low-tax”?

    (Sorry for feeding the troll, guys.)

  8. It’s definitely an empirical science. There are plenty of studies that show what the range the length the yellow light should be are, on both sides. Too short and you get accidents, too long and you get accidents. So you set it in the middle.

    As joe said, it’s infuriating when chowderheads in some city council directly put the safety of their citizens at greater risk for the sake of higher revenues from a damned “gotcha!” red light camera. And it’s galling when they then turn around and try to shmooze the public, saying that they have to put in the cameras ‘to increase safety’.

  9. Actually, that should read that you get MORE accidents if you set the yellow too long or too short. There’s always going to be the chance for accidents at any intersection.

  10. Hey Danno,

    Cleveland and Akron are among the upper echelon (not the good sense) as far as amount of tax imposed. They both have either toyed with or implemented cameras.

    Would you call Northern Virginia and DC “low-tax”?

    But have they intentionally set the length of the yellow light to be shorter than what’s considered safe for the purposes of gaining more red-light camera revenue? That’s what I’m talking about.

  11. As joe said, it’s infuriating when chowderheads in some city council directly put the safety of their citizens at greater risk for the sake of higher revenues from a damned “gotcha!” red light camera. And it’s galling when they then turn around and try to shmooze the public, saying that they have to put in the cameras ‘to increase safety’.

    It is infuriating, but they’re just giving the people what they want – government services without taxes means that they’ve got to come up with some other means to raise money.

  12. Wow, Dan can’t even read upthread 6 posts to remember what he said.

    I suppose this counts as a cost when a community adopts a “low taxes at all costs” philosophy.

    I miss Dave W. already. At least he was fun in Britney-Spears-shaved-bald-psycho-train-wreck sort of way. And I never got to ask him if he was this bipolar kid who used to work for me. Exact same stream of nonsense.

    What I love about red light cameras is how many police patrolmen are put out of job by automation. I expect a disgruntled cop to throw his shoes into a red light camera at any moment.

  13. I do remember that, I was clarifying that “this” was referring to yellow-light tampering (which we all agree is a bad thing), not red-light cameras (which many people would agree are a good thing, if used properly).

  14. It was my understanding that one of the “packages” that the manufacturer (Lockheed?) offered was one that offered a lower sale price on condition of a shorter yellow time and a company percentage on fines levied. I think that some states (perhaps the feds?) have outlawed the company percentage scheme. I’m too busy to research it now.

  15. Danny Boy,

    There have been allegations of this in all those locales. Only in Akron have they successfully been fought off entirely, but wouldn’t ya know it, Mayor Don still wants them AND a city income tax raise to 2.58% (which many of the people who will have to pay it won’t get to vote on). Akron will be the 2nd highest taxed major city in the state behind fuckin’ Youngstown.

    And Don still wants the fucking cameras.

  16. Dan T- Remember this simple rule: every government always wants more money.
    Corollary: Every government always wants more power.

  17. Mayor Don still wants them AND a city income tax raise to 2.58% (which many of the people who will have to pay it won’t get to vote on).

    Why wouldn’t they get to vote on it?

  18. Because you pay municipal income tax of the locale in which you work.

  19. Cameras are unlawful, but considered “legal” (which is definitely not the same thing). Non-victim behavior modification. Personally, I think the public at large should just shoot the cameras, repeatedly, and thereby destroy the revenue stream being foisted upon us all. Eventually, the rapacious city fools would realize that it’s simply too expensive to maintain cameras exposed to the ‘weather’.

  20. Why wouldn’t they get to vote on it?

    I pay income tax in the city I work in… but I don’t get to vote on it because I don’t live there.

  21. I’m going to pistol whip the next guy who says “shenanigans.”

  22. I pay income tax in the city I work in

    Is that an Ohio thing? NYC used to have such a thing but it got struck down years ago. But it seems fair to me to pay part of your tax to the political entity in which you spend more than 1/3 of your time, with a corresponding reduction in the amount you pay to the entity where you spend the other 2/3. You “vote” on it by taking a job there 🙂

  23. I’m going to pistol whip the next guy who says “shenanigans.”

    Is “goings on” ok?

  24. Dan T- Remember this simple rule: every government always wants more money.

    I’ve noticed that half the time, people here claim government is always incompetent because they have no profit motive and thus no incentive to provide good service to its citizens.

    The other half of the time, government is amazingly money-hungry, constantly coming up with new ways to bring in revenue simply for the sake of bringing it in, it seems.

    The solution is always private enterprise – you know, the people who openly admit to only wanting more money. They can be trusted.

  25. I currently go to college in Lubbock (Texas Tech) and watched all the specials the TV station did on the lights. Long story short they timed the lights and found that they were short of the recommend time of one second for every 10mph of speed limit. When they presented their findings to the city council they delayed the plan to install the lights and almost got them to admit that the lights were to be just another source of revenue.

    At any rate there is more to the story but I have to get to a Spanish test.

  26. Dan T- You suggested that the yellow light camera scam might be a result of the government starving for money because of low tax rates. I suggested that governments seek more revenue no matter what. You responded with one of those “People here say… followed by what you think are contradictory positions. You did not respond to my point.
    So, I’ll say it again: governments tend to seek more revenue, no matter what. There is no reason to expect yellow-light shennanigans to be connected with low tax revenue. Feel free to respond to that point, if you like. But spare me the mentally slothful “people here think…” crap.

  27. I guess the city will be refunding that ticket money.

  28. I’ve noticed that half the time, …
    The other half of the time, …

    The government doesn’t compete with anybody, so yes, there is no profit motive (and a trip to the post office should suffice to prove how little they care about providing a service). The only motivation they have is to get re-elected; and what are the chances of that happening? Something like 80%?

    So there’s no profit motive but individual politicians are just as eager for money and power as the rest of us; so yes, they are constantly coming up with new ways to bring in revenue. Not sure how you could possibly ignore the empirical evidence right in front of your eyes.

  29. Dan, can you grasp that greed and lust for power are not the same thing as the profit motive?

  30. shenanigans

    [runs off]

  31. (another tax example: I pay income taxes to the city of Grand Rapids, where I work, although I don’t live there… I’m not certain of the exact rules of the GR tax but I think it applies to residents who work outside the city as well, at my last job I had a coworker who paid income taxes to the city of Detroit while working in Southfield)

  32. I’m going to pistol whip the next guy who says “shenanigans.”

    Hey Farva, what’s the name of that restaurant you like with all the goofy shit on the walls and the mozzarella sticks?

  33. TGI Friday’s?

  34. You mean Shenanigans?

  35. Hey, let’s pop some Viagras and issue tickets with raging, mega-huge boners.

  36. This attitude in the halls of government is also revealed when there is a movement to cut the fat in government and the poiticians threaten to cut funds for libraries, police, and fire departments.

  37. It signals a certain desperation on the part of local government, doesn’t it?

    I like that. Has a nice ring to it. However, there is a certain “desperation” in all government acton, otherwise, there would be no need for it. Almost every expansion in my local government (and not a low tax area by AAANY stretch of the imagination) is almost always framed with a certain…desperation.

    Take a look at any random Volvo driving around here, and a full 2/3’ds of ’em have an “I’m voting for kids” bumper sticker. god only knows which new tax levy that applied to. Could easily apply to 1/2 a dozen in the last 8 months.

    But back to the salient point, there’s a certain curve involved in traffic safety measures. Sure, we don’t let people drive 110mph through neighborhoods, so a 15-25mph limit is in fact, for safety. But somewhere along the line that point on the curve whips to the other side and new traffic regulations become about revenue. So perversely about revenue, that local governments are actually willing to endanger the public to maintain or increase a revenue stream.

    If we take the idea that all persuit of profit perverts the mission, then we have to assume that the mission of government at large is…perverted. It stopped being about safety a long time ago. It’s about the money.

  38. There is a difference between income and profits, but the effect on human behavior is pretty similar.

  39. Tomfoolery, high-jinks, mischief, antics, fourberie, knavery, machinations, monkey business, monkeyshines, skulduggery, rascality, roguery, roguishness, funny business, devilment, devilry, espieglerie, underhandedness.

  40. Dan T., the classic claim was that governments have little incentive to make good decisions because they don’t bear the costs of bad decisions. Not that governments don’t want money. Of course they want money.

    I mean, the point is debatable, but it’s like Free Market 101.

  41. skylarkings

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.