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 4

Who started this Myth? NHTSA!
The “WHY” is not Safety!

This Crisis is a testament to the power of marketing; those that control the media control public opinion. NHTSA is the Public Relations (Propaganda) and Funding mechanism for the enforcement industry. Its mission is to manufacture expedient public myths.

Sabotage too? NHTSA has assigned staff and are funding programs and white papers to undermine Title 23, FHWA research programs and their guidance of prescribed best practices.

Since the repeal of the National Speed Limit, NHTSA participates in and/or guides all new USDOT (FHWA) safety research, thereby ensuring that future research meets their agenda before approval. Why is this important? Because they found themselves having to literally block research from publication (distribution), when its findings didn’t support their agendas. This is not surprising because most of the FHWA’s prior research did not support any of their campaigns’ practices. Independent findings of fact that can be trusted are now all but dead within USDOT.

The USDOT Stop Red Light Running Campaign was given heightened priority in 1995 because support for the National Speed Limit had all but vanished. NHTSA had a crisis of their own looming because their Traffic Law Enforcement (TLE) division constituents needed new crises to ensure their funding levels. It is staffed with officers on loan from their respective agencies learning how to write and administer enforcement grants. And NHTSA’s marketing agency works with them to develop crises: road rage, aggressive driving, seat belts, red lights, zero tolerance to speed limits etc.

1995 the PR campaign begins. The Stop Red Light Running Campaign is on virtually every network as well as local news program and newspaper across the Nation. The National Motorists Association (NMA) complains and NHTSA admits that their data was grossly exaggerated. Undeterred by facts, the USDOT in their 1996 release and again in a 1998 release began with 8,100 intersection fatalities as the nexus for their campaign against Red Light Running. True to form as in all their (misinformation) campaigns, only a small percentage of these actually occurred at intersections with traffic lights, and much smaller number of those involved entries on red.

It worked. The publics’ acceptance of the Red Light Running campaign succeeded. It had also worked as a viable and easy to administer NHTSA Highway Safety Grant program. All the agencies had to do is have their officers SIT IN at the highest volume low accident rate intersections and write red light citations, and the officers earned their coveted supplemental take- home pay. No one in the media noticed or cared to ask why they never worked the high accident rate low volume locations or that these efforts never reduce accidents.

Back to the lie, myth or at best misleading statistics this campaign was launched with (you choose which one). The facts are that it wasn’t 8100, it’s was estimated to be closer to 800 and according the AAA study in Michigan almost half of this lower number of actual red light related fatalities could be eliminated by spending money on traffic studies and funding the traffic control device upgrades and adjustments. Then there are those caused by: pedestrians and cyclist; weather, ice, fog, snow, rain or the sun blocking the vision of an approaching motorist; terrain, curve or grade; view of signal obstructed; signal being visually lost in the background clutter, the distracted or a oblivious DUI driver. Police chases cause another 400 fatalities a year and of those that occurred in intersection, if the fleeing motorists went through a red light or it was an emergency vehicle responding to a call. They’re all here too.

The sad truth, seven years later no one really knows this answer. The data is too imprecise. There is no national standard on data; each state has different criteria and methods for reporting accidents.

Even the Transportation Research Board (TRB) has been enlisted to further this deception via the issuing of synopsis-based findings that center around dubious NHTSA supplied materials or research or position papers that include nonengineers to dilute or negate the findings of the engineering community. One clear example, NHTSA fervently opposes using the 85th percentile to set speed limits or signal timing and have succeeded in several campaigns to undermine it.

These myths are also supported by the faux for hire safety industry: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running, Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, Public Citizen, Center for Auto Safety, then you add the beneficiaries of the revenue and the equipment vendors. And it’s no accident that these groups have an abundance of high paying positions available for friendly key administrators once they leave office.

Make no mistake about this, it takes enormous amounts of money to sustain these enterprises, and most of them are funded by businesses with shareholders and they don’t do it out the kindness of their hearts. At this level special interest groups are well funded because they work. In excess of twenty five percent of their net revenue is from premium surcharges derived from 50 million plus citations a year assessed for low risk behavior – safe for conditions within engineering standards. With cameras this 50 million could easily become 500,000 million and DC is the proof.

As for Richard Retting the Godfather of the US camera movement, IIHS staff, a member of the ITE signal timing committee, and its adopted unverified signal timings guidance.

Weekly Standard’s Matt Labash wrote: “Taking Retting’s word on the safety benefits of camera enforcement, say the critics, is a bit like trusting the Tobacco Institute that smoking increases lung capacity.” Negating true research findings like “The 1995 five-year study by the Australian Road Research Board” which stated “There has been no demonstrated value ... of red-light cameras ... as an effective countermeasure ... to people running lights ... saw increases in rear-end accidents.”

The cameras ability to write citations en masse is nothing new either, the equivalent science of its day in the 1920’s was officers hiding from view using stop watches, timing cars between painted lines on the roadway. In 1927 California passed its speed trap law to stop this “EVIL” practice (California Supreme Court characterization) of taking advantage of otherwise safe drivers in enforcement traps, to the detriment of overall safety. The cameras have simply automated the previously abhorrent practice of “sitting in” and “enforcement traps”.

January 1972
Re: FHWA Library #: TEA1400.F72
U.S. DOT, NHTSA: DOT HS-800 701

"The most visible result of quantitative, revenue-oriented, nonselective traffic law enforcement policies is the persistent use of ‘sitting–in’ enforcement techniques. Sitting-in usually occurs at locations which, in police jargon, are referred to as “duck ponds” or “cherry patches”. The sitting-in practices are particularly objectionable when two or more enforcement units group together to work an intersection which generates frequent driver violations. Usually, where this situation occurs, the officers are doing nothing more than reaping the harvest of inadequate or poor traffic engineering. These locations frequently encourage noncompliance by the motorist to traffic signals or turning regulations. Very often, however, the real culprit is faulty traffic engineering rather than the driver. Poor positioning of signals and channelization deficiencies are characteristically present at the ‘duck ponds’.

The insight of those that have gone before makes their observations no less poignant. Particularly when you find out that with relative few intersection cameras and 5 camera vehicles, Washington DC has been able issue up to 71,259 citations in a single month with a sustained average now in excess of 60,000 citations a month, a rate well in excess of one citation a year for every man woman and child in the District.

Of particular note, NONE of DC’s traffic control procedures are in conformance with federal statutory requirements. The prerequisite for highway funding as well as red light camera and photo speed enforcement grants. Not unexpected since NHTSA’s speed and red light campaigns are wholly dependent on under posted speed limits and short yellows (illegal).

Now you can add photo enforcement’s litany of other serious unresolved troubles: violations of privacy; system malfunctions; custodial chain of evidence; digital evidence cannot be court certified as unaltered; no first person witness of violation; incentives rewarding unsafe practices; correcting engineering defects constitutes violation of contract; locations chosen for citation rate potentials, not safety; cost of systems; public revolt now requiring cameras to watch cameras; financial interest in prosecution outcome by state witnesses; camera cannot make safe for conditions determination; guilty until proven innocent; operator error viz citations issued to wrong state and or plate number; vehicle owner charged, not driver; no positive ID of driver; no picture of traffic light condition as vehicle crosses limit line; owner guilty unless they turn state’s evidence against self, family member or other driver; exclusion of prosecution to entire groups, organizations and classifications of companies. More often than not the vendors to maintain political favor also quietly extend these exclusions to those whose DMV records are tagged as politicians, court staff, public safety personnel and their families or boy/girl friends.

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