Thursday, August 02, 2007

Automated Red Light Cameras, Speed Camera Photo Enforcement: For Safety or Profit?

UPDATED: 09 AUG 07, 2342

During the course of my research of automated red light camera and speed camera photo enforcement technology, I felt compelled to ask myself this question: Is the adoption of these systems really about enhancing traffic safety or generating revenue [for the local/state governments which deploy them] and profits [for the companies which sponsor/operate them]?

While the overall picture is a bit sketchy—the parts of which are scattered throughout a variety of sources—certain aspects do appear to be taking form.

Below is a link to a video sales presentation to the City of Alexandria, LA by Redflex Traffic Systems:

Presentation by RedFlex Traffic Systems on the 'Benefits' of Automated Red Light Cameras /Speed Camera Photo Enforcement to Alexandria, LA at a Public Safety/Transporation Hearing

Charlie proffers that the only "proven" solution to reducing traffic accidents at red light intersections is automated photo enforcement—[at a] 'guaranteed' 50% reduction.

This is a factually incorrect and misleading statement. There are certainly other alternatives to reducing traffic accidents at intersections which include (but are not limited to) the appropriate re-timing of yellow-to-red phase transitions as well as red-to-green transitions to longer and more safe levels as well as the introduction of more sophisticated motion-sense type systems which can automatically adjust light-change phases based-upon real-time traffic conditions instead of mere static time programs.

RedFlex's stated position is about changing driving behavior and producing a lifetime surplus of revenue. Although it is stated that revenue creation is not the 'primary' purpose of the program, but simply the by-product, their corporate websites suggest otherwise.

RedFlex's mission statement includes the following:
Our mission is the deliver the most innovative, and comprehensive turnkey public safety programs that provide substantial benefits for our customers year-after year.

American Traffic Solutions mission statement includes the following:
Our mission is to deliver effective technology and services that reduce operating costs or generate revenue that pay for its use.

Conviction rates appear to be in excess of 99% and 40,000 citations issued per month in certain cities—that equates to $4M in monthly revenue or $50M annually!

Unfortunately, their conviction process encourages the ratting-out of your neighbor or family member, in the event you are falsely accused (instances where you were not actually driving the vehicle at the time of the alleged infraction); the KGB and the Gestapo, would be proud, indeed.

And currently, there is a movement afoot which is attempting to lower, even further, the evidentiary standards for the prosecution of these citations which can only serve to further increase these sales performance numbers (since the current conviction rate is already extremely high) and to lower the production costs of their 'products' (i.e.; citations).

In other words, due process is being directly and intentionally eroded in the name of profit-taking.

Additionally, these companies are positioning themselves for operating related/optional automated speed-enforcement technology at a projected (by their own estimates) increase in these revenue streams by 500%!!!

According to RedFlex's own Investor Briefing Guide [PDF], the top two market drivers are rooted in money [or the lack thereof]: Municipal Budget Deficits & Decreased Public Safety Funding.

RedFlex's presentation also includes a shock-and-awe video of a double-ejection (occupants apparently weren't wearing seat-belts) intersection T-bone accident with [partially] stated commentary that these systems will reduce such accidents.

It is interesting to note that the accident recorded by the RedFlex system was not prevented [by it], it was merely recorded, demonstrating that the implementation of such systems in no way directly reduce the likelihood of these sorts of accidents from actually occurring.

Furthermore, no supporting information was provided by the presenter which could provide the proper context or contributing factors to this accident other than the mere running of the red light.

Questions that were never asked [nor answered] about the driver at fault:
  • Was the person driving while intoxicated at the time of the accident?
  • Was the driver inattentive and/or distracted by something like the use of a cell phone?
  • Had the driver been speeding or driving recklessly before this accident occurred and for how long?
  • Had the driver been involved in any other criminal wrongdoing prior to the accident?

If any of the answers to these questions was in the affirmative, the potential for accident reduction by these systems would be diminished even further.

In fact, empirical evidence suggests that these automated photo-enforcement systems would have little, if any, positive impact on the reduction rates of these particular kinds of accidents—extremely late red-light-running by inattentive drivers (four or more seconds after an all-phase red-clearance period).

During a very brief question and answer session, a self-asked question was raised about yellow-light timing and the presenter's answer was that this system has nothing to do with yellow-lights and yellow-light [re]-timings.

This is an interesting and very telling non-answer. Why? Because if the name of the game is truly accident reduction, any system automated or otherwise must take into account any/all changes which could reduce accident rates; there exists studies which demonstrate that re-timing alone of red lights can go a very long way to reducing red light running and related vehicle collision rates.

If Alexandria's hearings are an indication of how these systems are being "vetted" [or not-vetted] throughout the U.S. there appears to be no real questioning of the consequences of these systems beyond the mere notion of how much revenue will be raised and who gets what and no real cross-examination or questioning of the "statistics" which are being provided by these companies to sell their services.

A new term I recently heard is "porpoising." The term describes an unhealthy dynamic created by these and related photo enforcement/speed camera systems called asymmetrical situational awareness.

In simple terms: some drivers will be aware of such systems, others will not be, while others will be hyper-sensitive to them.

For those drivers who are hyper-sensitive, they will be inclined to abruptly jam on the brakes while making an approach to an intersection or stretch of road monitored by these systems, which increases the likelihood of rear-end collisions to those either not aware of these systems or who are not hyper-sensitive to them.

Upon further reflection, I have realized that if, in fact, these systems have the capability to actually change driving behavior, that it may not be for the better. Why?

Because these systems actually encourage creating this porpoising effect at every intersection, monitored or not.

This is an especially egregious situation because all red lights are not consistently timed as their is no adherence to a uniform set of guidelines!

At these intersections where the yellow-light transition timings are too low, drivers who have been conditioned to the presence of these systems will develop a very dangerous automatic and subconscious response: any time a light transitions from yellow to red at the moment of an approach to an intersection, the impulse will be to abruptly slam on the brakes to avoid crossing the threshold of any intersection. In other words. the use of these automated photo-enforcement systems encourage the creation of hyper-sensitive drivers.

Unfortunately, statistics demonstrating the increase of rear-end collision rates, will tend to under-state the actual values as these reports only take into account the rate of increase at the monitored intersections themselves and not other intersections.

Is risking/creating an increase of this egregious behavioral-response—which greatly increases the propensity of these alternate types of accidents, at every intersection, worth the very small theoretical benefit of reducing accidents within the intersection itself by the utilization of such systems—especially when one considers that appropriate re-timing can accomplish substantially the same thing without incurring this added risk or increased financial burden to already overstretched taxpayers? (primarily due to the fiscal irresponsibility of excessive deficit spending of our federal government—which only serves to further undermine the value of our currency)

Other safer alternatives include better signage and more sophisticated MIRT-enabled motion-sense type red light control systems with real-time adaptive timing as well as real investment into our transportation infrastructure like improved highway design & safely maintained bridges and a long-term strategy for an improved high-speed railway system with a low carbon footprint which will alleviate the burden of too high vehicle traffic densities.

In their sales presentation, RedFlex spoke of the importance of a public outreach program to engage and inform the public about these systems.

While this sounds good at first blush, a friend of mine—who happens to be an automotive journalist—recently attended a state highway safety conference, which highlighted this technology, only to find that he was forcibly removed, intimidated, and threatened with incarceration for merely being in attendance or lawfully at a public venue!

So much for public outreach. Sounds more like cloak-and-dagger 'outreach' (ie; PR disinformation campaign) to me.

A website to process multi-state convictions is

After checking the WHOIS registration of the domain, I found that the domain registration was done by proxy, hiding the ultimate identity of the site's owner. Hmm, that's interesting, isn't it?

What do these guys have to hide? (Question asked rhetorically, of course.)

This issue is so complicated and robust, I am going to have to break my dissection of it across multiple posts.

At the very least, I hope I have gotten your attention about this impending social scourge. I certainly don't want this country to end-up like Britain or worse, like Singapore where their society's privacy has been surveilled into oblivion.

As you can see by reading their investor briefings, they have salespersons hired as professional lobbyists, are well financed, and becoming a political force actively working to defeat anti-photo legislative maneuvers.

Of course, there is bound to be corruption. There is always that potential when big money meets government (especially when professional lobbyists are used).

Let's do some quick math.

Since these presentations run fast-and-loose with numbers and statistics, let's do the same thing using their numbers.

Redflex has stated that in FY2006 there were 200,000 intersection accidents resulting in 179,000 injuries and 1000 fatalities and billions of dollars of 'economic impact.' Assuming that they are correct in their projections of a 50% reduction of red light running as a result of these systems, assuming that every intersection where accidents occur is monitored by such systems, and assuming that there is a 100% correlation between this reduction rate and the resultant accident rate, that leaves us with 100,000 intersection accidents, 89,500 injuries, and 500 fatalities annually.

Doing some simple number crunching using their revenue projections of their 2006 Investor Guide, they are projecting a market potential of roughly 15 billion dollars annually. And that is before we factor in the additional revenue stream potential created by the automated enforcement of owner vehicle registration of which these systems are also capable.

That economic impact translates to $30,000,000 per lived saved, $167,000 per injury averted, and $150,000 per accident avoided. Yes, you read that right. Furthermore, if these correlations don't hold-up (they won't) these figures will rapidly increase. (Imagine $100,000,000 per life saved!!!) [It's] ludicrous, isn't it?

Of course, we are completely discounting any potential of economic impact, collision rate, injury, and fatality resulting from rear-end collisions created by the porpoising-effect of asymmetrical situational awareness of these systems. But let's be generous to them, shall we?

Surely we can positively affect more lives with that kind of economic impact per life saved!

Consider the same economic-impact on these progressive ideas:
I can't help but think of an old Chinese proverb: 'Don't kill mosquito with cannon ball.'

In my opinion, what this all really boils down to is the creation of an inherently unconstitutional and incredibly inefficient
taxation system—given that the for-profit vendors, who provide these services, often get the lion-share of the citation revenue created as profit/income (up to 99% in some circumstances) leaving very little left over for the municipalities/cities which approve or 'legislate' their use and the states where they reside.

I believe the idea that these systems improve traffic safety should be consigned to the scrapheap of "ideas that looked better on paper or Power Point presentations than they are in real life."

If anyone conducted an even semi-serious analysis of these systems at these 'public outreach' or sales presentations—which masquerade as 'traffic safety hearings'I believe the proliferation of them would be STOPPED DEAD, in their tracks!

These automated systems are that bad and their companies' sales pitches are seriously misguided and disingenuous, and that's being kind.

I honestly don't know how these people sleep at night.

What our society needs is less progressive Governors, cities, and 'safety' campaigns and a more conservative or libertarian-style leadership and judiciary to effectively mitigate these and other traffic safety issues with real solutions.

The time to get involved is NOW!

Keep an eye on your local municipalities and attend any related hearings; provide them a link to this article; join the dialogue and get involved as voting citizens (especially of the state of Arizona where several of these companies are incubating); spread the word on the Internet (by linking to this article from other forums, blogs, or other social networking websites); and become part of a healthy movement to stop the adoption of these evil systems before they are everywhere!

Join & Become and Active Participant of the Online Automated Traffic/Photo Enforcement Discussion Forum: Speed Trap Hunter.

Please link to this article using the following url and anchor text:
Automated Red Light Speed Camera Photo Enforcement: For Safety or Profit?

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