Subscriber Discussion

Will 2014 Be The Year People Rise Up Against Traffic Cameras?

Today, D.C. turned on 100 new traffic cameras (in addition to A LOT of them already), but will 2014 be the year people rise up against traffic cameras?

A village in Ohio needed some revenue so they set up some speed cameras. In one month they issued 6,600 tickets and $2 million in fines. Now a judge has ordered the cameras to be shut off as the town prepares for a possible class action lawsuit. And down in Florida, a judge says he's going to start tossing red light camera cases, saying the law is "vague (and) arbitrary and capricious." Baltimore's cameras are under fire for having a 30 percent error rate.

Has the public had enough?

Is it the public who have had enough, or is it operating entities deciding that the 'real' operating costs involve more than they expected?

From those cases it looks like a little of both.

The animosity does appear to be growing:

For those unfamiliar, the '1776' tag is reference to the year 1776 - the year the United States declared itself sovereign from British rule, that had a penchant for arbitrarily taxing colonies. Read: a parallel between unfair taxation and 'red light' tickets.

Many cities in California have already disabled or removed them so I think at least here, 2013 was the first "year".

A number of factors have come into play in their shutoff and removal:

  • Ticket revenues tended to decline rapidly as drivers learned camera locations and after complaints of too-short yellow signals either forced authorities to lengthen the yellow or as cases were dismissed because the yellow time didn't meet traffic flow standards.
  • Many cases were also thrown out of court for various other reasons.
  • Public outcry upon learning that the cameras' primary purpose was revenue.
  • Increased "rear enders" at camera intersections caused primarliy by drivers braking short as soon as the light turned yellow.

So wars on false pretenses, mass spying on private citizens, and massive corruption in the financial system are all acceptable to the US people.... but not traffic cameras.

Yep, that's about the size of it. Traffic cameras affect people directly while the vast majority could not care less about foreign wars, government spying or corruption.

Why would they revolt against something intended to save lives...?

Florida's red-light camera intersections issuing more tickets after yellow light times quietly reduced

Wow, this script sounds really familiar... BC had a flirtation with speed cameras a dozen or more years ago... the left-wing government brought them in, defended them through five years of public outcry, and the program was promptly shut down by the successive right-leaning party.

The biggest issues then, too, were the reliability of the technology, and the vagueness of the laws. The program itself survived numerous court challanges, although as I recall some tickets were thrown out after their recipients took them all the way to Constitutional challenges (obviously something that only suits those with deep pockets and a need to prove a point).

In our case, the speed cameras weren't fixed positions; they were van-based systems that could be parked anywhere, ostensibly in particularly hazardous areas, but in reality seemed to appear more in "fishing holes".

We do still have red-light cameras here, and those seem to be far more accepted. Of course, you always get the anti-authoritarians who will be against them just on princple (they love to bring up the "increased rear enders" bit, something I've seen generally refuted by those with actual experience). But they also tend to be far more reliable - for example, the camera doesn't actually go active until two seconds after the light turns red, so if someone trips it, they were REALLY blowing the red.


Perhaps in your neck of the woods, the cameras were installed for altruistic reasons (cough, cough) but the vast majority here were promoted by private companies who took a large percentage of the fines, to the point that as the number of tickets issued and/or were actually paid decreased, the cameras became unprofitable.

Also, at least in San Diego, there were numerous instances where yellow light timing was deemed too brief considering speed limits. Once a few cases wended their way through the court system and it was determined the yellow light was too short, cities were forced to either turn the cameras off or reset the lights. In either case, receipts plummeted.

Also kudos to local talk radio wags like former SD Mayor Roger Hedgecock who, after being involved in a severe rear-ender at the location of a red light camera, took up the battle cry against them, calling them "Red Light Scameras" and urging ticket recipients to fight them in court.

The "fishing holes" concept sounds awfully similar to Arizona's movable "speed traps" that have since been shut down.

<edit> By the way, this isn't new. Even in 2001, Washington, DC was the poster child for red light cameras. In a CBS article on July 31, 2001, it says:

"In fact, millions are made. In Washington, both the city and the contractor that developed the system expect handsome gains from red-light camera tickets — about $117 million for the city and $44 million for the unit of Lockheed Martin Corp. which supplies red-light cameras by 2004.

Lockheed Martin and the city of San Diego are defendants in a class-action lawsuit brought by motorists ticketed by the system. After the hearing, a Lockheed Martin official acknowledged in San Diego the firm received $70 from each ticket issued."

Will 2014 be the year people rise up against...Hey, football is on!

No, they will not rise up. They are too lazy to stand.

I agreed with you almost 7 years ago in 2013 - before the Agree button existed.

But now - for maybe 'other reasons' - municipalities are starting to recognize the various dangers innate in surveillance of 'everyone' as an acceptable security solution.

this recent update to the story of San Diego's $30M Smart Streetlights project sheds some light on how the current political landscape can effect things purchased many years prior to the current social climate norms.

Informative: 1

My disdain for red light cameras has been vehement and long-winded. Every time I hear a proponent make stupid, completely unscientificly proven statements about these cameras having anything to do with 'safety', a little bomb explodes in my brain.

I don't know what the specific laws are for speed cameras, but I've read many places that red light camera companies are not allowed by law to receive any 'percentage' of tickets. Instead, the municipality pays a flat yearly fee (with a standard contract of five years) for each camera installed.

Since these cameras are used at intersections, that means you need (at a minimum) 4 cameras to cover each approach.

As Carl noted, human nature and the laws of diminishing wallets dictates that people will shortly learn to come to complete stops and/or be more cautious approaching these intersections, and the ticket volume (along with collected revenue) will plummet accordingly.

But guess who's still on the hook for the remainder of the 5 year contract?

And nobody can say this is taxation without representation, as the locally elected are absolutely complicit. They drink the koolaid, become proponents, then only turn against these companies when their own positions become challenged/threatened.

I suppose a lot of how the contracts are handled and how the laws are written will be jurisdictional and limited by what existing laws will allow. At least from what's publicly available on red light cameras here, the program is operated by the relevant Ministry and ICBC, the goverment-run auto insurance and licensing company. I'm sure the information is out there on who provided the cameras and how they're paid, but I've never bothered to look it up, although if there was somthing hinky about it, someone would have already made the FOI request and raised a huge stink about it... so far the only body anyone accuses of "profiting" from the program, is the Provincial government itself.

As for camera counts, there are a few hundred fixtures in place province-wide, but only some 140 cameras that are rotated between them. Some of the intersections will have four cameras, but many others are where arterial streets cross secondary highways, and thus only have one or two cameras for the main direction of travel. The idea, of course, is similar to the concept of slowing drivers down by parking a cop car with a mannequin on the side of the road: people see it and pay closer attention to their driving. The argument of people slamming on their brakes and causing rear-enders is specious at best, at least around here, because the camera housings are big and obvious and drivers who are paying attention should be well aware of them in plenty of time.

I hadn't received a ticket in many years, but recently I received a DC ticket complete with photographic verification.

They appear to determine speed by radar or vascar, and provide photographs for verification. The photographs are taken 0.2 sec apart on a section of street that is marked with white cross bars every 5 feet. Not wanting to risk an accident in a busy thoroughfare, I take the five foot spacing on faith.

The ticket was for 49 mph in a 35 zone. Running the math from the photographic evidence yields 43 in a 35 zone. I find it interesting because:

1) 43 mph in a 35 zone is still speeding,

2) The price difference between 43 and 49 isn't worth hours in court

3) My calculations imply (on the basis of one data point from two photographs) a measurement bias

4) One wonders if the 5 foot cross-bar separation suffers bias. That would be too obvious, right?

This experience adds a data point for cocktail party chat, but in my humble estimation, I don't think that 2014 (or any year) will be the year that people expend a lot of effort to change this system. When we get the ticket in the mail, we internally acknowledge that we've been on the wrong side of the law, and if our time has any value, challenging a bias at the margin really isn't cost effective.

In the next county over, my girlfriend got a traffic camera ticket for rolling through a stop light. IT actually had a URL link to a video clip showing it.

She was given the option of paying something like $120 with points against her license assesed and $170 without points assesed.

Matt's acceptance of the legal and ethical grounds for photo enforcement illustrates a major difference between Canadians' view of the government as benevolent and Americans' inherent distrust of the government. Look up red light cameras in the U.S. and you'll find hundreds of websites devoted to arguments against them and ways to fight the tickets. Contrarily, look up red light cameras in BC and you'll find very few detractors.

It is interesting to see the differences in public attitudes toward government around the world. This was also reflected in the recent IPVM discussion Did Police Go Too Far With Surveillance In This Case? where gun ownership was also discussed.

Carl, I think part of it is differences in how the programs are implemented and operated, and the issues don't seem to stop at traffic cameras. In the US, it seems (at least based on the media we see, both in TV/movies, and news items) that traffic revenue goes largely straight to the police departments issuing the fines, which gives some the impetus the fudge the rules. Case in point was a story my wife told me years ago of a county near where she grew up, where a senior cop was found to have locked in a high speed on his radar gun, then proceeded to pull over a number of drivers, showing them that number if they asked about it. He was discovered when a judge noticed an unusual number of disputes coming before him, with all the tickets showing the same speed from the same date and time frame, and from the same cop.

Here in BC at least, ticket revenues all go to the Provincial goverment, and neither local RCMP detachments nor individual city police departments see a cut of it, so there's little incentive for them to work the system just to pull in more cash. The government themselves are often accused to toughening the laws just as a "cash grab" but that has no direct effect on the enforcement by the local police. It may help as well, that most jurisdictions use the services of the Federally-run RCMP for their policing - a few towns and cities around here use their own forces (Vancouver, Port Moody, New Westminster, Delta, to name a few) but even Surrey (which before it became a city qualified as the largest municipality in Canada) uses the RCMP, who generally operate under contract to the Province and also see no direct benefit from ticket revenue.

And as noted, the camera programs here are operated differently, run directly by government agencies, rather than administered under contract by private for-profit companies.

The long and short of it is, I think there are a lot more contols in Canada that prevent the kind of issues that largely have Americans up in arms over traffic cameras.

"Here in BC at least, ticket revenues all go to the Provincial goverment...".

Sure Matt. Just like in the U.S., in Canada only the locals have their hands out @@.

Therein lies the difference, Matt:

It's not that we Americans want to be any less 'safe' than our Canadian brethren, it's just that here in the US, it's all about profit in reality, while our 'leaders' pretend it's about safety and pledge support to whomever can fill their respective municipal troughs (and in Chicago's case, their respective pockets).

Here in Norway we have had speed ticket cameras for a long time now. They are operated by the government and no percentage of the fines go to the police or contractors.

There was a lot of noise about them when they came. Now there is hardly anything.

We have two types of cameras, one that is just an automated radar control point.The other is a system that measures average speed over some kilometers.

For the ticket to be valid the authorities must have a picture of the driver that can clearly identify the driver. The cameras supervised sections of the road must also be clearly marked with signs. Our traffic police officers than also regularly conduct manual speed control in nearby section.

As the road authorities have good data on accidents on the roads, they can prove a significant reduction in accidents in the areas where the cameras are used. I would also say that at least most of them are placed in high risk areas. Roads with a lot of children crossing and turns where they historically know that accidents occur are typical locations.

For the ticket to be valid the authorities must have a picture of the driver that can clearly identify the driver.

Interesting requirement. That would be helpful and make it more fair, but I don't know in jurisdictions in the U.S. that have that rule. In fact, some areas have rules just the opposite of that. In Virginia the tickets specifically say that the person who the car is registered to is responsible unless the owner can prove it wasn't them (even though the burden of proof should be on the state who is accusing someone of a crime). That's how they can get away with just taking pictures of plates and having tickets mailed off.

That is one of my personal pet peeves about these cameras..... from my understanding, what Carlton said is true throughout the U.S. - they basically changed the spirit of the law to allow for issuing tickets to a vehicles owner by default vs ticketing drivers of the vehicle (which was always the case prior). I think this is primarily because the positioning of cameras to capture plates is not conducive to capturing images of drivers.

It is my understanding that (in the US) the only way a vehicle owner can get out of a ticket for instances when they were not the operator of the vehicle when it got the ticket, is to sign a document stating who the actual driver was at the time, and then the ticketing agency just shifts the ticket to this person - and it becomes their burden to fight it.

Curious: In countries that have to produce identifiable pictures of the driver, how do they handle drivers wearing sunglasses and hats (or say, on Halloween when the driver is dressed as Bozo The Clown)?

They had a hybrid of this idea here in BC, where the owner of the vehicle was assessed the fine but none of the Driver Penalty Points that would normally go along with a traffic ticket... unless the actual driver either admitted to it, or the owner turned him in, in which case the driver was then assessed the penalty points. In instance where the driver was someone different than the owner, this led to owner often just paying the fine, then collecting it back from the friend they'd lent the car to, thus saving the friend the points.

As far as BC law, they really didn't alter the sprit of the law, as a vehicle's owner has always been considered ultimately responsible for that vehicle's use, unless of course it was stolen. If you loan a friend your car, he smashes someone else up, then bails, it comes back to you, the owner.

Very interesting discussion. Here in North Idaho and throughout the country we often hear the word "Socialist" or "Socialism" used in a very derogatory way. I am a fan of the free market but also realize capitalism cannot do it all. This discussion is showing us how different countries deal with the same issue differently.

Often the free market means "free to rip off the citizens in many ways". I think the cameras will be with us forever but with much tweaking required to emphasize public safety and de-emphasize revenue to law enforcement who at one time were referred to as peace officers. These days law enforcement is trained, influenced and funded in part by "Homeland Security". Seems to be more like war now and always about more money extracted from citizens.

Final word, follow the rules. Set the cruise control and do not be in a hurry through intersections. Yup, I am an old guy(67).

In retail, we're experiencing this debate in context of tracking technologies. The hot topic is combining customer information (via CRM and POS systems), geo-location (through wi-fi and bluetooth features on smart phones), and in-store security cameras. While the technology is still very much work in progress, we're are getting close to the 1984 senarios.

Still, we give every app start-up access to every phone call and text message we send. Teengers cannot phantom life without facebook and detailing every aspect of their life. And yet...There were numous time in the last 5 years, I thought this is it, people will cry out, but nothing happens and privacy continues to be eroded. It seems to be the kind of debate that keeps chasing technology and just doesn't keep up.