published Monday, April 6th, 2009

One, two, three ... red light


by Adam Crisp
Audio clip

John Van Winkle

A red-light revolt is brewing in Georgia and Tennessee.

Chattanooga’s traffic engineer said he’ll go to Nashville to lobby against two bills in the Tennessee General Assembly that would give drivers a longer yellow light at camera-equipped intersections.

Meanwhile, the Dalton City Council is expected to vote tonight on whether to scrap the city’s red-light cameras because they are losing money.

Dalton, Ga., Mayor David Pennington said the program costs about $4,000 a month in lease payments to Laser Craft, the same company that Chattanooga uses. The Dalton police chief switched the cameras off a month ago rather than continue to pay for a money-losing venture.

“I’d be in favor of it if I thought it made the intersections safer, but you can’t find one study that says that,” said Mr. Pennington, who is also an insurance broker.

Tennessee Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, is the sponsor of two bills in the General Assembly that would lengthen the yellow light to five seconds at photo-enforced intersections.

His bill is aimed at reducing the number of motorists who get the tickets, Sen. Burchett said.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Angela Lewis
    A sign advises motorists that a traffic camera is in use at the corner of Highway 153 and Hamill Road.

“I don’t like red-light cameras, and I don’t think they have a thing to do with safety,” he said. “It’s a revenue stream for government, and I’d like to see them taken out completely.”

Chattanooga traffic engineer John Van Winkle said the bills threaten to undermine the city’s photo-enforced red-light program.

The cameras are owned and maintained by Atlanta-based Laser Craft. The city gives $19.50 of every $50 ticket based on the cameras to the company.

Chattanooga’s red-light program, begun about a year and a half ago, has generated more than $500,000, Mr. Van Winkle said.

However, he contends the red-light program is not about money.

Red-light cameras

* M.L. King Boulevard at Pine Street

* Brainerd and Moore roads

* Northbound Highway 153 at Gadd Road

* Northbound Highway 153 at Hamill Road

* Fourth Avenue and 23rd Street

* Dayton Boulevard at Signal Mountain Road (Red Bank)

“If I didn’t think they were making intersections safer, I wouldn’t be in favor of keeping them,” he said. “We pour that money back into programs that can prevent accidents.”

He said those programs include capital improvements such as improved road signs and brighter traffic lights, among others.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield plans to use part of the money from red-light cameras to fund teenage driver’s education through a voucher program, spokesman Richard Beeland said.

Cameras snap photos at five Chattanooga intersections when a vehicle enters the intersection after the light has turned red. The tickets do not count as “points” against a driver’s license.

The city also operates stationary speed cameras along the S curves on Hixson Pike, Barton Avenue near Girls Preparatory School and South Crest Road near the Georgia-Tennessee line, as well as mobile speed vans around the city.

Mr. Van Winkle said Sen. Burchett’s bill puts legislators in charge of decisions best made by traffic engineers. He said the city employs a formula that calculates for speed, among other factors, in determining how long lights should remain yellow.

A five-second yellow light would be far too long, he said. It would encourage motorists not to stop on yellow and instead floor it because they know they have plenty of time before the light turns red.

Sen. Burchett’s bill is pending the Senate Transportation Committee. A companion bill sponsored by Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, is in a House committee.

Sen. Burchett said he expects to hold hearings on the legislation in the coming weeks. Mr. Van Winkle said he’ll attend to oppose the bill.

And he’s got a backer on the issue in Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, a committee member.

“Last year, we passed a bill that barred a municipality from altering the yellow-light time in order to enhance its revenue form,” Mr. Berke said. “We shouldn’t have legislators doing the work of traffic engineers.”

about Adam Crisp...

Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...

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EaTn said...

I have mixed feelings about these camera lights. They do seem to prevent running red lights, but they also encourage speeding-up through yellow lights. Most of all they seem to be installed more for revenue than safety.

April 6, 2009 at 6:02 a.m.
KWVeteran said...

When you find that you've received a ticket for getting "stuck" inside the red light zone in a traffic situation, as you'll realize you have been several times in your driving life when you think about it, you will not have much enthusiasm for these revenue generating cameras. It is NOT about safety. It IS about revenue.

April 6, 2009 at 7:48 a.m.
enufisenuf said...

Van WInkle, wake up and get de programmed, it is all about revenue, but since your getting a slice of the pie in some fashion, you won't take an honest stand just to save your perks. Can you say lobbiest?

April 6, 2009 at 7:54 a.m.

If you repsond AGAINST the use of speed control cameras, then please leave your home address. I want to come to your neighborhood and drive 50 mph.

Hey boys. You only get ticketed IF you're exceeding the speed limit. The speed limit is NOT the speed minimum.

April 6, 2009 at 9:03 a.m.
HenryTen said...

From today's article: "A five-second yellow light would be far too long, he [Van Winkle] said. It would encourage motorists not to stop on yellow and instead floor it because they know they have plenty of time before the light turns red."

As a professional traffic engineer responsible for our safety, Van Winkle has an obligation to make himself familiar with the literature on people's reactions to longer yellows, 'cause he's got it wrong.

There's all kinds of data showing that if you make the yellow long enough, you make a BIG reduction in the number of people running the light, and accidents too. A couple examples:

In Nov. 2000 Mesa, AZ lengthened their left-turn yellows (at six camera-monitored intersections) from 3.0 up to 4.0 and cut the violations by 2/3. Also significant is that the # of violations stayed down in the years after the change - it did not rebound once drivers got used to the longer yellow - they didn't "floor it," they STOPPED - because they were given enough time to comfortably do so. See the numbers at: http://www.highwayrobbery.net/redlightcamsdocsMesaMain.html

A 2004 paper about a long-term study of a Virginia intersection showed a 69% decrease in straight-thru violations when the yellow was increased from 4.0 seconds, to 4.5. (It costs next to nothing to re-set the yellows, so longer yellows can be applied all over town, reducing running at every intersection - no (expensive) cameras needed!) See the paper at: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-06242004-230619/unrestricted/Thesis_3.pdf Figure 4.1 on page 67

Longer yellows reduce severe accidents. A 2004 study by the Texas Transportation Institute found, "…an increase in the yellow duration of 1.0 second is associated with an MF [crash frequency] of about 0.6, which corresponds to a 40 percent reduction in crashes." See the study at: http://thenewspaper.com/rlc/docs/04-alternatives.pdf Figure 2-8 on page 2-20

HenryTen

April 6, 2009 at 10:02 a.m.
alyawn said...

I just got a ticket in the mail for "failure to stop" at a red light. With the ticket came two pictures: one of the vehicle at the white line, and one of the vehicle almost out of the picture. I was turning right on the red light at Dayton Blvd and Ashland Terr. Without seeing a video showing that I never stopped, I don't see how I can get a ticket for "failure to stop" from 2 photographs. Also, I need to know whether or not the decision to ticket was made by a human watching the feed or if a computer made the decision. I will be disputing the ticket.

April 6, 2009 at 2:37 p.m.
diamondr54 said...

It is all about the money period.

April 6, 2009 at 4:59 p.m.
deargle said...

What makes Mr. Van Winkle "think" the cameras are making intersections safer? Is there a study for the Chattanooga cameras that shows if those Chattanooga intersections are safer? If so, is it an independent one? I'm in favor of the cameras if they are making the roads safer.

April 6, 2009 at 7:19 p.m.
enufisenuf said...

Its amazing how easy it is to brainwash some people into believing reports and charts. Any agency making a chart to gain approval for their cause is going to slant the report in their favor. The different yellow pages do it, the NRA, MADD, Helmet law proponents. It all factors down to money, if there were no more traffic violatons, drug trafficking, accident or crime, we could not afford the taxes it would take to support all the money the powers to be in government skim off the top for personal gain. Please, wake up and stop sucking up to these officials playing you for the fool.

April 7, 2009 at 9:05 a.m.
federaloffense said...

Camera's do not change behavior. Just ask anyone who works in a bank. They get robbed every day even though everybody knows they are stuffed full of camera's and alarms.

April 7, 2009 at 9:37 p.m.
piratenews said...

Lasercraft busted for perjury and fraud in Chattanooga by shortening yellow lights, all tickets refunded: http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/22/2269.asp

MYTH: "LaserCraft Inc. of Norcross, Ga

FACT: "Lasercraft is a member of the Public Safety Equipment (PSE) group of companies. Public Safety Equipment (Intl) Ltd, Registered Office, Yeadon, Leeds, England, with Beijing Mag Science & Technology Development Corp, Beijing, China." http://www.lasercraftinc.com http://www.pse-intl.com http://www.maggroup.org

18 US Code § 2381. Treason. Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

Mayor arrests city councillor for opposing traffic scameras: http://piratenews-tv.blogspot.com/2009/04/mayor-arrests-citycouncilman-redlight.html

"It is extremely easy to beat this type of ticket in court. Your easiest defense is to simply throw the ticket away. If it does not come with a return receipt that requires a signature, there is no proof that you actually got the ticket and they cannot prosecute you on that." -Norman G. Fernandez, attorney at law, and Jes Beard, attorney at law in Chattanooga, "How to Beat a Speeding Ticket - Photo RADAR" http://jesbeard.com/s11.htm http://www.bikerlawyer.net/how-to-beat-a-speeding-ticket.pdf

Knox County deputy sheriffs shot Redflex redlight cameras with bullets: http://www.piratenews.org/kill-robocops.html

Battle of Athens Tennessee 1946 over bogus speeding tickets http://piratenews-tv.blogspot.com/2008/02/battle-of-athens.html

April 15, 2009 at 12:22 p.m.
stationr said...

What amazes me is how/why people could panic at a photo-enforced red light. If you don't know what to do when you see a yellow light (hint: stop if you can comfortably do so) then perhaps you don't belong on the road. The people who get tickets are those who think the other way: not "can I stop" but "can I squeeze through without stopping." Change your thinking to the former philosophy and you'll have no problems with red light cameras.

April 20, 2009 at 10 p.m.
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