––––– Original Message –––––

From, Bernard J. Michel,

Subject: Red Light Cameras and Safety

I was dismayed to see the FHWA jumping onto the red light camera bandwagon. I must assume you are aware of the changes in yellow signal timing that have resulted in reduced yellow clearing time and clearing on red policies. It seems we have created a problem by changing from adequate to minimal yellow timing and designing intersection signaling to include “clearing on red” and are now compounding it by legitimizing the underposting of speed limits. In concert, these two policies will perforce create “red light runners” from law abiding citizens.

Now we have a “problem” we can sink our teeth into so let’s have some “enforcement” (i.e. RLCs). As an average, but informed citizen I resent being treated in this cavalier a manner by my government. Before we go off on the tangent of RCLs would it not be good to put the figures your web site posts for SRLR crashes and fatalities into some context? What were they last year? 1997? 1996? How does that compare to passenger miles travelled for the same periods? In other words, what is the relative accident rate? This is the only true measure of a problem? If the rate is constant or decreasing, where is the “growing” problem? Growth in absolute numbers, while of concern, does not always indicate a growing problem in relative terms. It may just reflect that more people than ever live in urban areas and are driving more passenger miles per year.

Similarly, when your page cites that 55.8% of Americans admit to running red lights I am sure you must mean only drivers, who was polled? Was it a demographically balanced poll? Do these drivers know that the timing of lights now “sets them up” for failure with reduced yellow timings and designed “clear on red” signals? Also, what facts lead to the conclusion that “red light running is the leading cause of urban crashes today.” Is this another “intuitively obvious” conclusion like the old “speed kills” slogan. It turns out that it is not absolute speed but rather speed differential that causes the most harm and accidents. While red light running may be the proximate cause of SRLR crashes, what causes red light running? Why not try to fix the problem instead of “fixing the blame?” What about better signal timing, has that been considered as a solution to this “outbreak of lawlessness?” Have you considered that the distractions of modern traffic are increasing? Just consider one factor, cell phones. How many inattentive drivers got caught by a short signal and caused an accident? Would longer timing have given them a better chance to react? What about DRLs? These are a real distraction to me (and I am sure many others). The visual clutter created by a mass of headlights in midday traffic tends to cause traffic signals to be lost in that clutter.

Unlike your campaign, I do not assume that the average motorist is or wants to be a lawbreaker. I believe we are being set up for failure by the system (whether this is intentional or just another example of the law of unintended consequences is a matter for debate). Then that same system wants to “clamp down” on the lawbreakers that ill-concieved policies have created. This is very unbalanced and unfair to the motorist.

If we could save even 1‰ of the lives lost in SRLR crashes, is that not a worthy goal? Changing signal timing does not cost anything (except lost revenue for the RLC operators). I am amazed that this simple step was overlooked in favor of this draconian enforcement approach. If you are at all familiar with industrial practices you will recognize the truism that “You can’t inspect quality into your product.’ It must be designed in. If safe streets are your product, then enforcement is your inspection. I maintain that properly designed and engineered speed limits and signal timings are the right long term solution.

Thank You for Your Attention,
Bernard J. Michel
1705 Globe Court
Bel Air, MD 21015


FROM: "Hasson, Patrick"
Cc: "Smith, David "; "Halladay, Michael" Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2001 6:30 AM

Subject: Red Light Cameras and Safety

Mr Michel:

Thank you for your email to Bud Wright, Director, FHWA Safety Core Business Unit. My name is Patrick Hasson. I am a Safety Engineer in the FHWA Midwestern Resource Center outside Chicago. I am also the FHWA lead for the Stop Red Light Running Campaign. In the following few paragraphs, I will try and address many of your concerns so that you might better understand the FHWA position on red light running and the appropriate use of cameras for enforcement.

1. Statistics on RLR This is a fairly difficult item to develop on a National level for a number of reasons. However, we use the Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) produced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to arrive at numbers that we believe provide a fair representation of the problem. Attached you will find a Powerpoint slide that describes the RLR national trends over about the last ten years. In case you are unable to read this file, a summary is provided in the attached Word document. Both include info on rates. These data are supported by similar (though slightly different) data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. If you have trouble with either of these files, please let me know and I will find an alternative means to deliver the information.

In addition to simply looking at these numbers, we have also utilized the Higway Safety Information System (HSIS) to examine the RLR problem. HSIS is a database that we maintain that includes the highest quality road and safety data available in the US. It currently includes data from eight States. The result of their analysis was that RLR is a real problem for which the enforcement countermeasure – automated or traditional – can make a difference.

Finally, I think that our numbers show that we are having an effect on the problem – it is decreasing in real numbers and in rate. I am especially heartened about the real numbers (rather than the rate), beacuse every single number is a life. I believe this is a result of all of our efforts, not just cameras. (As an aside and speaking on a personal level as a road safety advocate, somehow, when we use a rate, we can rationalize an increasing number of people dying on our roads. This just seems wrong to me.)

2. 55.8% of American admit to running red lights We have performed a couple of statistically significant National surveys on the topic of RLR. The number you quote is from the latest survey that was carried out for us and our partners by Old Dominion University in Virginia. You can find the entire final report of the survey on our website at the following address and draw your own conclusions.

3. Engineering to prevent Red Light Running In the time that I have been the lead for the RLR Program, this is the one area that has been most troubling to me. Specifically, most jurisdictions do some form of engineering review prior to using cameras. However, these reviews are inconsistent in their form and content. Some are very comprehensive and some less so.

Clearly, my review of the literature and input I have received from engineers here in the US and from other countries indicates that there are a wide range of possible engineering factors that MIGHT affect RLR. Here is a list of a few – some have been "proven" and some have just been considered: Effects of Signal Timing: length of amber phase and all–red intervals, cycle length; Influence of Pedestrian Signal Indications; Sight Distance; Road Cross Section and Width; Signal Progression/Coordination; Vertical Curvature; Approach Grade; Volume (side street and main street volumes); Delay/Level of Service; Type of Signal Control: (Pre–Timed, Semi–Actuated, Actuated); Unwarranted Traffic Signals; Signal Visibility; Unconventional Intersections – e.g. roundabouts.

In recognition of this problem, we have initiated a study with the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE). The study is entitled “Engineering Safer Intersections to Prevent Red Light Running”. The end result (in about a year’s time) will be some sort of guide that can be used to sytematically review intersections to ensure that they are engineered to minimize RLR events. It will also provide guidance on the most important engineering features that should be reviewed/considered prior to the installation of cameras. It will also provide some direction as to the type of research we should be doing to develop better intersections.

4. Are red light cameras a SAFETY countermeasure? My immediate answer is yes, but I would like more information. The statistics that are available from the US and elsewhere show a significant decrease in violations and crashes after cameras are installed. Our website documents some of these. However, recognizing that we need better information than we currently have, the Transportation Research Board, National Cooperative Highway Research Program, has initiated a study to examine the safety benefits of red light cameras. The study (to be completed in about a year’s time) will be a comprehensive and definitive review of exisiting information to answer whether or not cameras actually do lead to a reduction in crashes, injuries and fatalities and to quantify those improvements if they exist. This study is not concerning itself with violation rates, etc., but only real road safety measures –i.e. crashes, injuries and fatalities.

5. Some general comments about cameras When I communicate on behalf of FHWA concerning RLR, some of the things I like to talk about are: – SRLR educational campaigns are effective as a singular countermeasure. We have all sorts of materials available to support communities that want to start a campaign. – We know engineering can affect red light running and, specifically, we know that certain items - e.g. amber phase – are proven to make a difference though not completely erase the problems. However, we need to know more and we are doing that with ITE. – Cameras are effective so long as we: a) perform an engineering review prior to installation; b) couple them with a public education program; and c) utilize them solely as a road safety countermeasure and not for other, non–safety related reasons.

As you can see from my answers, there is a great deal of information that we have that motivates our approaches to road safety. Ultimately, however, our motivation is simple – we want to reduce the number of people killed and injured on our highways every year. Last year, nearly 42,000 Americans died on our roads. Is this acceptable? No. We want to reduce this number by at least 20% by 2008. If it takes aggressive enforcement to save 10,000 American lives a year, it is probably a worhtwhile approach. However, FHWA, as an organization predominantly composed of engineers, does firmly believe that good engineering can make a big difference. With that said, we are doing everything we can to increase the level of our knowledge of safe road engineering in the US (for RLR and other areas) and to get the best practices adopted for regular use by as many road engineering authorities as possible.

Please feel free to contact me again if you have any questions. As well, let me thank you again for writing. You have obviously studied this situation closely and raised some very important points. Ultimately, however, your points indicate a strong interest in road safety and, therefore, saving lives.

I assure you that FHWA shares this interest with you.


Patrick Hasson Safety and Operations Team Leader FHWA Midwestern Resource Center 19900 Governors Dr. Suite 301 Olympia Fields, IL 60461

(T) 708-283-3595