Reason.tv: Jay Beeber Defeats LA's Red Light Cameras


Thanks to filmmaker and activist Jay Beeber, Angelenos will no longer live under the watchful irises of the city's red light cameras, which mostly just catch people making right turns on red. 

"Seventy-five percent of this multi-million dollar program is going to try to change a behavior that doesnt actually cause any accidents," says Beeber.

Reason.tv's Tim Cavanaugh sat down with Beeber to discuss his one-man crusade to rid Los Angeles of red light cameras, which he says actually make intersections more dangerous and, incredibly, cost the city money despite promises of greater efficiency. Following this interview, Beeber and his group Safer Streets LA won their battle when the city council voted unanimously to end the red light camera program despite tough oppositiion from special interests and local politicians.  

Interview by Tim Cavanaugh. Shot by Zach Weissmueller, Alex Manning, and Paul Detrick.  Edited by Sharif Matar.

Approximately 8:30 minutes.

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  1. Going for brevity in your posts, Nick?

  2. just take off the front plate. game over…

  3. What’s with the dueling puke green outfits?

  4. You’re welcome. Now stay tuned for my latest hit single, “Selena, You Make My Pants Levitate”

  5. Of course the idiot Mayor Bloomberg is pushing for red light cameras on every corner.

    1. God damn this tyrant’s ill-gotten third term cannot end soon enough. I don’t even own a car but it’s the same freaking attitude he applies to every single issue: control, punish, dehumanize. Fuck him.

    2. That’s because New Yorkers have proven themselves to be pussies.

  6. With respect to the yellow light phase lengthening, what was the reduction in violations a year later, after drivers got used to having an extra second of yellow light?

    I’m all for abolishing red light cameras, but I argue that the right approach is to require drivers to pay more attention by eliminating controls rather than tweaking them. The average American driver would probably kill a dozen people a day if they tried to drive through some uncontrolled roadway in an Indian city: they simply aren’t prepared for the degree of attention they need to devote to actually driving their car without running into things when they aren’t told exactly when and where to go.

    1. The average American driver would probably kill a dozen people a day if they tried to drive through some uncontrolled roadway in an Indian city:

      I’m not sure what you mean here. I think red lights are useful for controlling traffic flow, but there’s some evidence that from an accident perspective, we’d be fine without them. I live in a city that doesn’t have stop signs in many of its neighborhoods. When I moved here, I was mildly shocked to see it. “How do people not kill eachother?”, I wondered.

      Yet they manage it. When you come to an intersection, you slow down, look both ways, and drive through.

      1. What I mean is what I said: the average American driver relies on those signals not to kill other people. When someone tries to cross a road in front of a car, the driver’s reaction is to swerve, honk the horn, swear at the pedestrian, and mutter about their right of way. It doesn’t occur to them that they should?I don’t know?STOP for the pedestrian because the law sets up traffic signals and laws telling them that they have total control of the roadway during certain intervals. This trains drivers not to look for obstacles but rather for signals, making them less attentive overall and less able to deal with unexpected situations.

        1. I still say that the traffic signal’s major purpose is traffic flow, not safety. Safety is the secondary issue, hence my comment above about entire segments of the city I live in not having any stopsigns, let alone traffic lights. When people know there are no signals, there’s evidence they’ll slow down at an intersection, look both ways and move on with very few accidents.

          The problem is on major thoroghfares, you want to keep the primary traffic routes flowing evenly and efficiently without people stopping or slowing down at every cross street.

          In the case of cars vs. pedestrians, it depends where you live. In cities where drivers aren’t used to, you know, people walking down the street (Tucson) it’s probably deadly to be a pedestrian. In Seattle, where pedestrians are more commonplace, drivers are pretty respectful. This also varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. For instance I wouldn’t step out onto a non-signal-protected crosswalk in the south-end if my life depended on it. In Wallingford or Capitol Hill, I’d practically step out without thinking.

          1. I still say that the traffic signal’s major purpose is traffic flow, not safety.

            Very true. A single trip across a metro area during a power outage will demonstrate to you that traffic signals speed traffic flow significantly.

            1. Indeed, but they need to operate in a fashion conducive to moving traffic. The stoplights that turn alternating sections of road into freeways for 30 – 60 seconds at a time work well. The ones that attempt to micromanage the timing of each individual intersection don’t. This is one of the few things Manhattan has over center city Philadelphia; in NYC you can actually drive for miles at a time without being stuck at a light provided the traffic density isn’t at rush hour levels. In Philly you’re sitting at every light and never getting over 15 mph even when there’s nobody on the road.

            2. What he said!

        2. What I mean is what I said: the average American driver relies on those signals not to kill other people.

          Where are you getting this “average driver” from, did you just make it up in your head? The behavior of an invented population is commonly called a “straw man,” but usually they are invoked in order to knock them down. Here, you appear to be advocating for the straw man, strangely, and you seem awfully confident of what the motivations of this fantasy driver are.

          I see cars stop for pedestrians all the time in the large city I live in. It’s certainly too easy to get a driver’s license, but I believe that as bad as it might be, most people simply do not want to run people over.

      2. We get a taste of what a world without traffic lights would be like every time there’s a widespread power outage.

        Hint: it’s a serious pain in the ass at busy intersections.

        1. My experience suggests that the biggest problem when the lights go out is that drivers don’t know what to do, and as a result there is a lot of friction due to confusion. Once everybody got used to the situation and learned to pay at least lip service to right-of-way rules, I wager that stop signs wouldn’t hurt very much. In Chicago, with its broken road system, I wager that changing most lights with signs would make traffic move faster.

    2. The average American driver would probably kill a dozen people a day if they tried to drive through some uncontrolled roadway in an Indian city

      The average American driver would kill nobody, because they’d be too terrified to drive faster than 10 mph. But there might be a few broken toes.

    3. So you’re arguing for more things that drivers need to pay attention to while driving? That ain’t gonna help safety any more than universal texting while driving would.

  7. I caught the story on NPR a few weeks ago about how L.A. was dropping its red light program. I’m glad Reason covered this.

  8. Good for him. Unfortunately, here in Jersey a recent survey found that 75% of the people approve of the cameras. We are apparently quite happy letting the state dictate our behavior while wasting our money.

  9. the video footage of the “rolling right turn” was actually a left turn…

    1. Ironically in Washington we call a “rolling right turn” a “California Stop”

    2. noticed that too…
      also, he kinda glossed over that people are following too close and that is the real reason for rear enders at red lights, not the red lights…but, then again, guns kill people…

  10. Cavanaugh will find two tickets waiting for him in his mailbox when he gets home. He just confessed in front of the entire Internet.

    His only hope is that they’ll be frightened by his mobster attire.

  11. Does California really not do the thing where all the lights are red for a second or two? It sounded like that’s what he was implying. I thought the “all red” was pretty standard, but most of my driving has been in the Southeast.

  12. The claim that RLCs inherently make intersections more dangerous is pretty dubious actually. The accidents that tend to increase are rear-end collisions that are much less likely to cause serious injury or death than head-on or T-bone collisions that commonly result from people running red lights.

    From what I can tell, the opposition basically seems to boil down to:

    1. privacy concerns
    2. irritation at not being able to break the law by rolling
    3. random sticking it to the man

    (1) is bonkers because RLC’s don’t capture any images that aren’t already publicly visible.

    (2) is one of those suck up and deal moments

    (3) is actually fallacious, since the alternative is having more traffic cops patrolling for violations. I’ve never heard of an RLC chasing a driver down and beating them to death, so I think the people with authority issues here would prefer the cams.

    1. You forgot (4) due process claims. And many cameras here in Houston were taking pictures when you made a legal right turn (ie, full stop). Also, (5) many jurisdictions shorten the yellow light times to increase the revenue.

    2. When the “revenue” generated from traffic cameras are rebated pro-rata to taxpayers, I will take seriously the claim that RLCs are installed for “safety”.

  13. I don’t think Beeber (who has to be cursing his luck in surnames) was necessarily relying on that argument. He meant it more in the spirit of “I’ll see your dubious argument that your plan is safer, and raise you a dubious argument that your plan is less safe.”

    The burden of proof shouldn’t be on him here. If the supporters of these things can’t even make a compelling case that they do more good than harm, it seems absurd not to err on the side of not having them.

    1. Crap. That was supposed to be a reply to Tulpa. Someday I’ll get the hang of this.

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