ITE District Six Annual Meeting: Red Light Running Panel July 15, 2002

Camera Enforcement v.
Sound Engineering Practices
A clash of diametrically opposed forces!

Continued - Page 3

Crisis a Natural Consequence of Standards Oversight Failure:

Congress’s objective in this 1966 Act, was to return safety decisions to those that base their decisions only on findings of fact that have proven to make us safer; with uniform nationwide continuity of meaning and expectation. Congress expanded the FHWA’s dominion over the construction of the Nation's highways to include all traffic control on them.

Thereby entrusting our Nation’s traffic safety solely to licensed traffic engineering professionals and their institutions. Because the tenets of their profession require studies to test a thesis, peer review and verification before a standard, practice, procedure or principle can be incorporated into the engineering body of working knowledge.

With such a well thought out law, how did we end up with an escalating collapse in verified standards? While making the law more powerful, the FHWA administratively abandoned the statutory and engineering protocols that were in place to ensure that only verified practices are adopted. Thereby negating 70 years of hard work by dedicated legislators, engineers and researchers. In effect creating a state of anarchy in standards application.

What we have now is whatever they decide (staff opinion), even when it is known to be unsafe practice or detrimental to the general public welfare. More interestingly, because this is an engineering standard with a requirement to be factually based, many of these unsafe acts are actually illegal, as per like standards rulings against the EPA by the Supreme Court

When asked why obvious noncompliant practices (illegal) are allowed to exist (under posted limits and short yellows),Shelly Row, the head of the FHWA Office of Transportation Operations (HOTO) that oversees the MUTCD, claimed she has no funding or desire to allocate resources to enforce the law Congress entrusted them to oversee.

She said the FHWA’s mission is the supervision of their projects, not the policing of compliance. She had no answer as to the degradation of the standards, changes or the increasing unapproved device use that is occurring absent the prescribed by law processes. Worse yet, her opinions as the head of this department do not reflect an understanding of this law’s history, mandates or wording.

The Executive Director of the ITE, Thomas Brahms had an even more unsatisfactory answer when asked how the signal-timing “guidance” changes occurred without verification of efficacy.

Since the 1930’s, its been known that large numbers of violators are more often than not caused by engineering problems, rather than an out-of- control motoring public. “What we know” in 1989 FHWA paper referencing a 1930’s finding;

What we know: “In general, motorists noncompliance is indicative of a problem. The problem may be due to some failing on the part of the traffic engineers or the lack of understanding of the driver, but seldom is the problem a wanton disregard of the law by the motoring public.”

What we do: “Disregarding traffic signals is a leading cause of urban crashes,” said Secretary Pena. “And each year, these crashes cost Americans $7 billion in medical bills, time off work, insurance hikes and property damage. With this seed money, communities, together with law enforcement, will start education and prevention programs reminding people that the light is red for a reason. Stop.”

The “what we do” comes from an August 1995 USDOT release. The money was for enforcement agencies, cameras for cities and extra take home pay for traffic officers. ALL of this was for revenue or personal income opportunities (Capitalizing on engineering and oversight failures). And NONE of this “seed money” was allocated to engineering – the known “safety” solution.

What we also know and don’t act on: One FHWA study found that only one in ten roadways have their traffic control devices set to safely guide traffic in accordance with codified national requirements.


  • Signalized intersection accidents are up to 50 percent greater than prior verified practice
  • More than 90 percent of speed limits are posted at levels found to cause up to 10 percent greater than what would be expected accident rates
  • Traffic calming efforts have increased accidents rates and increased air pollutants by up to 46 percent
  • And the wider application of unverified practices contributed to work zone fatalities being up 64 percent, with a 8–1 motorist-to-worker kill ratio
  • In addition, FHWA allowed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to mandate traffic and vehicle regulations that are known to increase injuries, fatalities, congestion and what else?
    The what else ... the new EPA mandates will result in significant increases in air pollution and their assumptions do not include vehicles manufactured after 1994. Which represent the majority of the vehicles using the highways.
    All their assumptions are just that, they have not measured emissions output from real highways.
  • Their nonenforcement of engineering safety standards, in effect sanctions the issuance of about 50 million traffic citations a year that have no safety component whatsoever, only revenue.
    And the evidence suggest that because of the Country's economic downturn this 50 million may actually be double this year, as supplemental revenue sources (fines and fees) are being aggressively pursued at both the state and local levels.

The good news we have the knowledge and the law we need to correct this unsafe practices problem is already in place, all we need to do is apply it.

Power Point Presentation   RLR Timeline   1  2  3  4  5