Red Light Scams
My Cato colleague Jonathan Block has a letter to the editor in today's Washington Post:
The Feb. 14 editorial"Focus on Red-Runners" mentioned a Fairfax City study that apparently showed a 44 percent drop in one year in red-light running at five intersections with cameras. But it did not mention the results of a 2001 analysis by the National Motorists Association of a Fairfax County intersection. That organization found that red-light violations dropped 96 percent at the intersection when yellow light time was increased from 4 seconds to 5.5 seconds.The National Motorists Association does great work. They're libetarians of the roadways.
A 1998 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also found that 80 percent of red-light entries occur within the first second of the light turning red, indicating that inadequate yellow time is the major cause of red-light entries.
Increasing yellow-light times would reduce red-light violations and increase safety. Localities have not done so because it would negatively affect a major source of revenue for local governments.
Incidentally, I presented this information recently during a hearing for a red-light ticket I received in the District after entering an intersection 0.6 seconds after the light turned red. The infraction was upheld.
I predicted over two years ago that the installation of red light cameras would taint city officials with the promise of revenue. Not only would they no longer consider lengthening yellows -- which would promote the safety of motorists, but cut into red-light-runner revenue -- I predicted some cities might actually shorten yellows, putting motorists at increased risk just so the city can make a little more money.
Sure enough, last summer the city of Bethesda, Maryland was caught shortening the yellow light at an intersection that brought in $1 million+ annually in fines.