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July 2001 Rant

"Photo Red"

You're probably heard about photo red programs. A photo red program is what our state calls using a camera to take a photo of someone running a red light and then sending them the bill. The General Assembly has been approving photo red programs for localities for the last few years. However there is a dark side to the photo red program.

Over a quarter of a million accidents are caused each year by running red lights. Hundreds of people are killed or injured in these accidents. Photo red programs were introduced as a way to help stop these accidents from occurring, but the programs evolved into something else.

Washington DC is sold on the photo red program. In DC 37 cameras photograph red light runners. Those cameras have raised $16 million dollars for the district. One light, it must be in a good spot, raised over a million bucks all by itself. Maryland has also caught the photo red fever. One Maryland county took in over $4 million dollars in a two-year period. Another Maryland county decided to increase the fine for running a red light from $75 to $250 so that they could make even more money.

In order to keep raking in the big bucks the cars have to run those red lights. So the duration of the yellow lights was decreased from 5 seconds to 3 seconds. This means more people run red lights and more money is made for the locality. Of course this also means that more people will be killed or injured due to the shorter duration of the yellow lights. But the localities have settled on 3 second yellow lights as a nice balance of death, serious injury, property damage and revenue enhancement. Isn't that nice of them? I guess they could change the duration to 1 or 2 seconds whenever they wish. Can you imagine trying to stop for a traffic light when the yellow light only stays on 1 second? How about 2 seconds, is that enough time to stop if you're doing 55 mph? When you consider how many red lights are placed on roads where the speed limit is 45 or 55 mph and the number of red lights that are partially blocked by curves or are at the bottom of a hill, then even 3 seconds is too short of a time to either stop or floor it to get through the light.

I have a problem with local governments that decide to sacrifice people to bring in cash. Why is the federal government requiring all those safety devices for vehicles while allowing localities to make the roads more dangerous? Apparently money is more important than lives.

Update: This was in the Richmond newspaper in September. A couple that live in Richmond got a ticket in the mail but they were not even close to the town where the photo red light was located. The man was with his wife at a doctor's office where she was getting a chemotherapy treatment. The photo they were sent was not their vehicle but the tag was similiar. The sheriff of the town said they could sign a paper saying it wasn't them and they would not have to pay. The sheriff told the newspaper that this was nothing really important since the tickets don't count on your driving record and these people shouldn't worry about such things. Maybe we should all worry about such things.

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