Public Health

Police Defend, Lie About Devices That Extract Money From and Cause Bodily Harm to Citizens


In Los Angeles, there are 32 intersections outfitted with red light cameras. "The LAPD," reports David Goldstein of the local CBS television affiliate, "claims accidents are down after they installed cameras, but are they telling the whole truth or just trying to make money off motorists? We crunched the numbers and the results may surprise you."

Well, they won't surprise you, maybe, but they're jarring nonetheless:

What's worse, red light cameras or this terrible movie?

We wanted to know actual numbers of accidents at red light camera intersections to see if they really went down.

When we asked, the LAPD became very defensive. The sergeant in charge told me in an e-mail, "The city would hope that it is the goal of KCBS/KCAL to discuss the positive aspects of the photo red light program."

So we filed a public records request. The department charged us more than $500 for a computer run. When we got the numbers back, they told a different story.

We looked at every accident at every red light camera intersection for six months of data before the cameras were installed and six months after.

The final figures? Twenty of the 32 intersections show accidents up after the cameras were installed! Three remained the same and only nine intersections showed accidents decreasing.

The problem? Motorists see the cameras flash, slam on their brakes, and get rear-ended. Helpfully, the LAPD does not measure rear-end crashes in front of red-light intersections; but only the crashes of people who've run a red. Those are down 34 percent, which the department crows about. When confronted with overall intersection data, which tells an unhappier story, the LAPD suddenly says this:

"It would be improper to draw a correlation between all accidents going up and the red light cameras," a spokesperson from the LAPD said.

Read the whole thing; link via LA Observed. Reason on red-light cameras here.

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  1. Cops lying? I’m shocked.

  2. Yes, they’re being dishonest.

    However, rear-end collisions are (a) likely to be much less severe than head-on or T-bone collisions, and (b) completely preventable if the vehicle behind is following at the proper distance. There is no excuse for rear-ending a vehicle, no matter how abruptly they stop. You should be leaving enough space so that you can stop without hitting them even if they hit a brick wall and stop instantly.

    1. You don’t drive a pinto I see.

    2. But, (a) you can’t just compare the severity of the types without comparing numbers. Presumably rear-end accidents are more common from people slamming on their brakes than the number of severe (which tend to be relatively rare) accidents prevented. Any analysis would have to account for that (just comparing the numbers of before and after isn’t enough either since there are certainly plenty of minor accidents from red-light running as well and some severe rear-end accidents so it is a rather involved empirical question). And (b) saying that rear-end collisions are completely preventable if people would just leave enough distance between cars so red light cameras are really not to blame, is no different than saying T-bone collisions are entirely preventable if people would just not run red lights so red light cameras are not really to credit. You can’t ignore the human factor in one type of accident but not the other.

      1. You also have to take into account the increased efficiency of intersections when people know they’ll get ticketed if they run a red light. Vehicles having to wait a few seconds for the other direction’s vehicles to stop going through the red light reduces the time available for that direction of traffic to pass through the intersection.

        1. You also have to account for decreased efficiency of intersections caused by people that should probably continue through instead slamming on their brakes and stopping just because of the fear that it might be a close call.

          1. You also have to account for the fact that when they put red light cameras up, they usually cut the yellow light length down to an impossibly short duration. Here in Arizona, if a camera goes up then I have to avoid the intersection from then on whenever possible.

            Because the yellow lights are short enough that a certain fraction of the time, you’re going to get a ticket no matter what you do. You can slam the brakes and squeal the tires, but you won’t possibly be able to stop in the length of time they give you in the yellow light, once the cameras go up.

            1. You have to account for the fact that red-light runners are (a) crybabies and (b) will whine about the yellow light being “impossibly short” any time they’re busted on photographic evidence – even if the yellow light duration was way, way longer than the 3 second minimum (set by regulation here in California). If you’ve been busted with a red-light photo indicating the yellow-light duration was less than 3 seconds, Scroogie, then post it online and supply the URL.

    3. Yeah, but if people consistenly drove in a safe manner, we wouldn’t have to worry about them blowing through red lights either.

    4. And you, I presume, follow the 2-second rule at all times?

      1. Check your Driver’s Handbook. It’s been the 3-Second Rule since 2001 here in California.

  3. It’s not about reducing accidents, it’s about levying stiff fines against people who don’t instinctively do what the blinkie light tells them to. It’s about respecting the authoriteh!

  4. I suppose the sergeant who responded to Matt’s/Reason’s requests regarding the accident statistics would respond to a Randy Balko e-mail seeking answers as to why Rover, the department’s german shepard ace narcotics sniffer, mauled to death two second graders during a surpirse drug sweep of Elmwood Elementary, as follows:

    “The City and the LAPD would like to believe that you and Reason will tell your readers that Rover is a hero. We would hope that you would want to provide some balance in your coverage by focusing upon all of the young lives that Rover has saved from the ravages of illegal substances.”

    1. Police dogs are never named “Rover”. Not nearly intimidating enough. In the stories I’ve read, the dogs are usually named “Killer” or “Zuul” or “Harass III” (presumably Harass and his offspring “harassed” the wrong person).

    2. Correction: it was Harass II.

  5. The sergeant in charge told me in an e-mail, “The city would hope that it is the goal of KCBS/KCAL to discuss the positive aspects of the photo red light program.”

    Excusatio non petita accusatio manifesta, or, an excuse not requested is akin to a self-accusation. This guy immediately went to say “please talk about the positive aspects of the cameras, an unnecessary request that makes one think there MUST be negative aspects of the systems.

  6. The sergeant in charge told me in an e-mail, “The city would hope that it is the goal of KCBS/KCAL to discuss the positive aspects of the photo red light program.”

    Translation: “Uh, we cops expect the media to shill for us, so get with the program, bitches”.

    1. “And if your news vans get ticketed for going 2 miles over the speed limit, or impounded for being too close to accident / incident scenes, well, won’t that be a shame…”

  7. So is the existence of a red-light camera increasing accidents because people who would normally run the red light suddenly realize that doing so would get them a large fine, so they hit the brakes? And then the person behind them, who was also planning on running the red, rear-ends them?

    Sorry, I have no sympathy for these people. A friend and business associate of mine is now recovering from getting t-boned by a red-light runner. And if the local government gets income from dangerous jerks, well, I think that’s better than taxing people who just want to buy something, or own a home, or employ someone.

    1. I suspect some, if not many, of the rear-end collisions are not just people who were going to run a blatantly red light, but those who probably should continue through a yellow because it is safer than slamming on their brakes. The fear of being caught by the camera in a very close call situation (which is probably not truly all that risky in the first place) is causing people to err on the side of the relatively more dangerous (in the case of a close call, not a blatant red) slamming on the brakes.

      1. I would definitely agree that the cases where municipalities (or their private contractors who get commissions for tickets) shorten the duration of the yellow light in order to generate more tickets are utterly shameful and truly dangerous to safety. But that’s separate from the question of whether the benefits of red light cameras themselves outweigh the costs.

  8. *Now* can we get stimulus money for installing flashing yellow lights before the camera intersections?

  9. “It would be improper to draw a correlation between all accidents going up
    and the red light cameras”

    Hah ha!

    1. The term improper supports a range of denotations, some at odds with others.

  10. Take that shitty movie poster image down and replace it with:…..h_ver1.jpg

    1. Your link is blocked, but I hope you linked to Cronenberg’s Crash.

      1. I was afraid the link wouldn’t work.
        Yes, I linked to a poster from the good JG Ballard/David CronenbergCrash

        1. If you move around on the site and do a search you can pull it up. Might be more trouble than it’s worth…

  11. Money, it’s a crime.

  12. I’m puzzled as to why a post about red-light cameras triggers the Hindu marriage banner ads.

  13. To answer the rhetorical question of the alt-text, that movie was clearly much more of an abomination than the red-light cameras.

  14. It’s strange watching liberatarians miss the obvious, especially when they crow about it in other cases (guns).

    What obvious thing are you all missing? These cameras have effects on OTHER INTERSECTIONS. Simply the fear that there might be a camera that you don’t know about will slow you down a bit everywhere.

    Actually, this is highly analogous to guns, which may make you and your family less safe, but everyone else more safe.

    1. That’s very interesting, thank you.

    2. First of all, shut your gorilla mask, Chad.

      Second, at least in the state of Washington, every intersection that has a camera is clearly marked with signes saying “photo enforced.” Could that be the case in CA as well?

      And Matt, count your lucky stars that your door hasn’t already been kicked in for this.

      1. At least in the SF Bay area, there are not signs indicating the presence of cameras.

        1. Yes there are, PapayaSF. Either the signs are there on the thoroughfare as you enter the camera-wielding jurisdiction or as you approach the photo-enforced intersection. (Many towns do both.)

    3. Actually, they have absolutely no effect on other intersections, at least not in Los Angeles, because people don’t drive more EVEN for RL camera intersections, as this post demonstrates.

      1. Don’t drive more carefully, that should read.

  15. A company sponsored defensive driving seminar I once had to attend taught when it safe to go through a yellow light. The dashed line separating lanes becomes solid a certain distance before the stop line at an intersection. The length of the line is supposed to be the distance traveled at the speed limit during the yellow. If you at the solid line when the light goes yellow: go through, if you are before it stop. There should not be an excuse to run a red, the visual cues are there unless law enforcement is gaming the light timing.

    1. Since inter-red time is an adjustable parameter used to tune traffic flow I don’t think this is the case.

      1. He’s not talking about inter-red time, he’s talking about yellow duration. That’s supposed to be constant, depending only on what the speed limit is.

        1. Not really. Yellow duration, depending on jurisdiction, can also depend on road surface, grade and cross street width. Some jurisdictions don’t bother with this and will use a simple rule based on speed, others don’t even do that but set a constant yellow duration. In any case, the assertion that the length of the solid lane separator indicates the safe stopping distance at the speed limit is not generally true. By which I mean it is only true by accident.

          1. I’m enjoying the belly-achers who are now complaining that the yellow light time might be LONGER than the minimum necessary for safety and state regulatory requirements.

    2. I was taught that if you can get into the intersection while the light is still yellow, you’re legal. (Not that that’s a reason to speed up as the light changes, or drive into an intersection that is clogged, etc.) Personally I usually figure that if I am into and out of the intersection while it’s still yellow, I’m OK.

      1. The distinction being made in the seminar between driver actions was not “legal” and “illegal”, it was “safe” and “unsafe”.

        1. To paraphrase the instructor “If they inscribe ‘But he had the right of way’ on your tombstone, does it really matter if you did?”

          1. No one has the right of way. Traffic laws state who shall yield the right of way. All drivers are required to yield the right of way in the interest of safety.

        2. Driving on the edge of the law without breaking it (or just barely breaking it) was generally not considered “safe”.

  16. Someone needs to explain the meaning of correlation because this is exactly when you would say that one exists.

    “It would be premature to assume causation.” That’s what they should argue.

  17. I hereby petition MW to stay away from blogging his conclusions if they are based on statistical evidence. In fact, this is a petition for him to stop posting anything involving numbers in general.

    He should rather use words like ‘many’, ‘few’, ‘more’, etc., then it’s less likely for him to shoot himself in the foot by, e.g. computing averages of compounded percentages using division, or that if 4 x 6 = 24 then 6 x 4 = 42.

    AFAICT, no attempt has been made to remove any seasonal bias. Observed period is 6 months before and 6 months after the cameras were put up, and one would expect more accidents in the winter months, but there is no information on this.

    Also, no information concerning the variance is provided, and all we really know is that the number of accidents in the next 6 months will go up or down with 50% chance.

    The only reasonable assumption the numbers support is that the cameras did neither prevent nor cause any accidents, confirmed by the police officer, but ignored by innumerate journalists.

    We can only conclude that the cameras – surprise – are simply a waste of resources.

    1. Why do you expect more accidents in the winter months? All the snow and ice we get here in LA?

      1. Less daylight – less vision.

  18. LAPD = retarded fetuses.

    What a bunch of dumb cunts. Is the first question on their job application: are you a dumb cunt?

    If so, you too can be a LAPD retard!!

  19. Driving in DC, there’s no doubt that redlight cameras have increased accidents. They also photo and ticket people who are stopped, but on or just over the line, which is illegal, but also not what the redlight cameras are allegedly preventing.

    If you are close to an intersection and a light changes from green to yellow, you have two options: (a) slam on your brakes to stop before the line, or (b) speed up to get through the intersection as quickly as possible. Both of those are dangerous courses of action. And someone behind you may choose b while you choose a. Even driving at relatively slow speed, the rain makes navigating these lights particularly hazardous. (And I’m pretty sure that in DC and Maryland, it doesn’t matter if you enter the intersection on a yellow or not.)

    Cities could make it safer for everyone by delaying the cameras to photo only blatant redlight runners instead of borderline cases, turning the cameras off in the rain, and not ticketing people for stopping on the line. But those would all decrease their revenue, which of course is the real reason for the cameras in the first place.

    The worst part is cities often shorten yellow light times for camera intersections, and several have actually been caught doing so. I recall that Dick Armey sponsored a study that found that yellow light times have systematically been reduced since about 1985, and re-lengthening them would virtually eliminate red-light running.

    1. If you are close to an intersection with a green light, Steve, anticipate that the light might change. (Duh.) Pick out your point at which, if the light goes yellow after you get there, you cannot safely stop without entering the intersection.

      In the rain, slow down. In congested traffic, slow down. In the dark, whether at night or under overcast skies, slow down. That number on the speed limit sign is based on IDEAL driving conditions.

      As for the cities that “shorten yellow light times for camera intersections,” I say let’s see some serious fines and jail time for officials who deliberately cut the yellow times below the state’s regulatory minimums.

  20. Yes, red-light cameras effect other intersections, but not necessarily in a positive way. They divert drivers away from safer intersections (where they’re invariably installed) to more dangerous ones (which are invariably less well-lit, narrower, and less well-paved). Thus, they increase traffic accidents at other intersections, too.

  21. I have little to no sympathy.

    I lived in an urban area for a decade where running red lights was part of the cultural landscape. They would honk to warn the people with the green. This happened ALL OF THE TIME. There were many, many accidents. Traffic would slow because people just didn’t trust that others would ever stop.

    Where I live now people obey the law. They have absolutely no idea how bad it is in the city.

    In time these people will learn to respect the lights – that is, assuming their vehicles are even registered.

  22. I got out of jury duty by telling the court that I had read that red-light cameras caused more accidents. Dont’ ask me why the subject came up, but somebody thought that was too opinionated for a juror.

  23. Yet another case in our society of ‘whine, whine, whine, oh pity poor me! I just disobeyed the law and did something stupid and got injured by someone else also doing the same stupid thing, but none of this is my responsibility.’ Next up, we can’t permit police to enforce speed limits, because that *might* cause an accident. The only reason the red-light cameras provide revenue is because people drive like morons. Nobody is forcing these people to fly into intersections too fast to stop in time when the light changes. I really cannot understand why this is even a matter for debate.

  24. Here in Mississippi the state legislature banned red light cameras this year. County sheriffs and small town police depts are also not allowed to have radar.
    We have a strong aversion to big brother here.

  25. Eric S. I think you MISSED the ENTIRE point of the article.

    What they are discussing is the motorist coming to the light as its changing, and they hit their breaks because they are blinded and surprised by the flash of light coming from the red lights camera. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve run it, as the data above suggested.

    Dip Shit.

    And inforcing a speed is not the same as installing a bright distracting flash bulb camera.

    1. Right, because these things just spontaneously flash when nobody has run the light. The red light cams in VA never were so bright that you could ever be “blinded”. Bottom line, these accidents are NOT caused by the cams, but by people driving like idiots. They’re either inattentive or speeding. Period.

  26. Hit and Run used the wrong picture. The other movie “Crash” (the good one) is much more appropriate.

    1. Meh. They both feature car wrecks. Also, one is awful despite having won an Oscar or ten, and the other is…well, it’s awful too but a lot of people like it.

  27. In League City, Texas we just had 3 sets of red light cameras installed.

    Last week I was sitting at one of the intersections where the cameras are installed waiting to turn left. I was in no hurry, I was off work getting a sign for our homeowner’s association, the weather was overcast, it was about 9:15am.

    The light turned green and I reacted normally, taking my foot off the brake and about to proceed, when a bright flash came from my right. I hit the brake again thinking there was an emergency vehicle entering the intersection, but there was no siren and no emergency vehicle, so after a few seconds I cautiously proceeded out into the intersection and finished the drive home.

    It took me about a minute to realize that what had happened was the newly installed red light camera on my right had flashed as a car passed through the red light for the other traffic.

    My point is it isn’t just folks thinking they’re being tagged for red light violations that are slamming on their brakes. The flash in my case was so bright against the overcast that even though it was out of my direct field of vision it caused me to hit the brakes. An inattentive driver behind me could easily have rammed me.

    On the other hand, this morning I was sitting at a different red light where the cameras are installed, also first in line to go, but it was a clear morning. The light turned green and a car passed by in front of me as I cleared the intersection visually to proceed, but I saw no flash. I’m pretty confident someone got a citation though.


    They’re dangerous and at least partially for raising money in my opinion.

  28. Maybe a bit off topic, but the problem with red light cameras is they limit your defense because you are likely not to remember a non dramatic event. If you get pulled by a cop you will remember all the details about the incident, if you are caught by a camera you probably won’t remember that it was wet and the car behind was too close.

  29. Also remember that not all red-light running is dangerous. If you run a red light right in the middle of that red, you are engaging in extremely dangerous activity that has a relatively high chance of causing an accident… and a severe one, at that.

    But if you run one within the first 1-3 seconds of it going red, the danger of actually having an accident is far, far reduced.

    Yet another time running a red might not be a danger is when you have a clear field of view on a deserted intersection and you slow down enough to be sure there’s nothing coming.

    How many people here have seen that first category of red-light running… more than say once every couple of years?

    What red-light cameras excel in doing is enforcing the far less dangerous versions of red-light running… making the problem look bigger than it is, and raising revenue, and causing rear-end accidents in the process.

    Is a large increase of rear-end accidents really more safe than a much smaller amount of “last 1-3 seconds” running? I doubt it.

    An even less dangerous act that is not addressed in this article is illegal right-turns-on-red, which are included in the stats when a department wants to inflate the numbers of red-light runners stopped. Right-turning when no one is coming is possibly the safest way to break the law mankind has yet invented, but your local police lump them in the same bin as a guy flooring it into the middle of a busy intersection. Nice Honesty.

  30. There are also several reports of people making “license plate covers” with the tag of a detested teacher, romantic rival, etc., and running it a few times. Do that with the plates of your local mayor, city council member, or chief of police. Then establish the “false positive” rate. Problem solved.

  31. Red-light cameras were finally banned in Santa Ana, CA, by a judge:

    Red Light Camera Program Voided

    In California, everybody knows that a yellow light means “go real fast”, and a red light means “only one more car through the intersection”.

  32. In Texas, they made red light tickets a civil offense instead of a criminal offense as when caught by police. It is also an offense by the vehicle not the driver, otherwise they would have to prove who was driving.

    I find it a big problem when my right to see my accuser and my “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” are rescinded so a city can make a few bucks. There have been many cases when it was obvious that the wrong vehicle was ticketed (picture was of a completely different vehicle). They require you to spend your time and contest the ticket in court even in such cases.

  33. I just received my Christmas Present a Citation from a red light at League City. (My first ever) Any Advise for fighting this thing ? I watched the video on line I was traveling 18mph approached the Red light,Brake lights came on checked intersection no one coming and turned to right. Was I supposed to like sit there for a couple of minutes to call this a stop or is it illegal to turn right on a Red in LC ? I noticed its civil and they advise just send them $75 the price isnt the deal its just that what defense do I have against an Officer that reviews the movie and issues a citation on his opinion with no discussion or objection ? They tell me in the letter to send them $75 by the 20th of January or face no Registration on my car next year ? Since its not a criminal charge do I have a Remedy other than paying ? Thanks for any advise on this matter. This seems like nothing but a “CASH COW” for League City ?

  34. just got some cameras installed here in our town and i was too close to stop safely when the yellow turned came on and the light turned red in like 3 seconds.. how many cars can come to a complete stop in a short distance in 3 seconds…. the accident rates are going to increase i promise you

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