Red-Light Camera Comments in Olympia

Traffic safety cameras were part of the House Transportation Committee’s work Wednesday. We posted a story about it Sunday evening. Following the jump here there is a TVW video of the entire meeting. Following that is an e-mail sent by state Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, to fellow House members and CC’d to reporters. He is taking issue with pro-camera comments made by Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata at the hearing. The hearing is in two pieces, sandwiching a hearing on limousine laws. The Olympian argues that legislators ought to butt out of the camera issue, now that the state has given local government the right to employ their use.

Letter from state Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw.

Dear Colleagues,

I listened to Councilman Nick Licata’s testimony before the House Transportation Committee on photo enforcement and I could hardly believe what I was hearing. In his testimony, he said that Seattle voters overwhelmingly support red-light cameras, and that accidents had been reduced by 40%. Compare that testimony to this statement that he made on November 14th, 2009 to the Seattle Times:

“Councilman Nick Licata acknowledged that speed vans and red-light cameras are unpopular with motorists, but said that drivers’ disdain might be eased if the revenue were earmarked for safe streets and sidewalks, instead of going into the city’s general fund.”

What’s more, the Seattle Police Department doesn’t seem to agree with Mr. Licata’s statement about accidents being reduced by 40%. On January 24th, 2010, the Seattle Times quoted the Seattle Police Department’s written statement assessing the effectiveness of the photo enforcement cameras after two full years of service:

“There is little evidence that cameras have decreased the frequency of all auto crashes or the more dangerous angle collisions after two years of operation.”

Finally, Mr. Licata told you that this had nothing to do with revenue, yet I think you should consider his testimony before the committee in light of the statement he made to the Seattle Times in a press release on November 14th, 2009 which states:

“A Seattle City Councilmember is proposing that increased use of automated speed vans and red-light cameras help plug a $4.5 million hole in the city’s budget created by the decision this week to end the city’s controversial head tax.”

I cannot imagine a more perfect example of the corrupting influence that seeps into government when public safety is turned into a profit making venture, which was my point in bringing this bill before the committee. I am convinced that by any measure of reliable data done by independent organizations shows that red-light cameras without appropriate yellow-light times cause an increase in accidents, injuries, and deaths. Some of those accidents are caused by people slamming on their brakes to avoid a ticket, and others are caused by people accelerating very quickly, to much higher speeds, to get into the intersection while the light is still yellow, which is why you see an increase of not only rear-end accidents, but also the high speed T-bone collisions that result in the more serious injuries.

Mandating yellow light times of a minimum of four seconds for low-speed arterials, and longer yellow-light times in higher speed intersections, have proven to reduce collisions in those intersections by as much as 80%. Reducing the fines to a point where the profit is taken out, and providing for a process in which citizen’s rights are respected and motorists are not subjected to harassment and intimidation will possibly lead to the cities losing interest in these devices, or in the alternative, force them to use this tool responsibly.

One final thought, as we see an increase in red-light cameras, we are entering a new phase. In the beginning, motorists always knew where the red-light cameras were. Seattle plans to add 30 more this year, and no one is going to know which ones are photo enforced and which ones aren’t. As cities do this expansion, what’s true of rising accident rates with red-light cameras, will soon become true with every intersection as frightened drivers fear a ticket every time they see a yellow light. This may be one of the worst public policy decisions ever when it comes to traffic safety, and it’s about to get a lot worse if we don’t act to protect public safety today.

It’s not about the money, it’s really about public safety? If that’s true, then I must assume that all those testifying actually support this bill. I hope you’ll exec it.

6 thoughts on “Red-Light Camera Comments in Olympia

  1. Instead of making the yellow lights longer, why not have all the red lights on for a few seconds before turning green? This would allow the drivers that try to beat the yellow enough time to clear the intersection before the cross traffic gets a green.

  2. Oh, geez. Why do people feel they have to “beat the yellow light”? What is the big hurry? I don’t even pay attention to those cameras; I just drive as defensively as I always have. When a light turns yellow, I slowly brake and stop and wait for the red. I sit there till I get a green light. No risks that way. You can’t “beat a yellow light”, that is why some fools get tickets, or worse, get into accidents! It has nothing to do with cameras. Sounds like paranoia to me.

    Port Orchard, WA

  3. The ethics involved in shortening the yellow lights to capture more “violators” is the problem. It appears to me that Bremerton is the business of subsidizing their operations with traffic light enforcement. How about what they pay for those cameras? wow! You could feed alot of people with kind of money! Or repair those horrible streets in Bremerton? It seems foolish to think any cash strapped City is not going to use this scheme to generate more money to support their operations simply because can.

  4. Emille probable drives 10 miles an hour, her life is so boring that she looks straight ahead every second, some people have kids, I have a large truck full of heavy equipment, if i’m to close, my truck can’t stop, I would end up in the middle of the road. The job of the police is to stop crime not to bring in income. Make everything a crime and they can collect more money. I think that it should be a crime to drive to slow. $200.00 dollar fine. Going through a stop light should only be a crime if you hit some one. By the way when is it a crime to be in an accident. My wife broke a glass I think she should be fined.

  5. When I came from AZ I was totally used to stopping when the light turns yellow. It’s a law there. You can get a ticket if you don’t stop on a yellow light if you haven’t entered the intersection. Needless to say when I got here with those old driving habits I was rear-ended twice because the guy behind me (way out of the intersection) wanted to race through the yellow light. Folks, it’s dangerous. I am thankful for those cameras, especially the one at Kitsap Way and Marine Drive. I used to use that intersection all the time when I lived in that area and I remember having to literally wait for all the people to run the red light before I could proceed on my green. The problem with drivers here is they don’t want to obey traffic laws. I’m amazed at how many times I get passed for obeying the speed limit. What is it? Too many espressos that make WA drivers so impatient?

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