Stepping our way to the panopticon…

Categories: Politics and Local Topics, Rants and Rambling, and United States of America.

OK, I admit that I can no longer count the times I’ve been waiting for a green light, see the opposing traffic slow and stop, have my light turn green and then see a car whizz past me through the light that just turned red. It’s stupid and dangerous (not to mention definitely a moving violation).

Some cities have begun using automated Red Light Cameras. Some of them have notable misconfigurations enhancing the ideas that it is merely all about revenue rather than safety. There are other devices besides only red-light monitors, and I just have to wonder if there are better ways.

Red light cameras

To combat that, red-light cameras are growing in popularity with the various cities in the state (Texas in my case). One interesting data-point about the cameras was a discrepancy between the outcomes when the camera sends a bill by mail and what happens if the driver was directly observed and ticketed by an officer, see: Red-light cameras in Dallas a go which caused some to worry about equal-protection concerns in addition to the various privacy, etc. arguments.I won’t further mention the debate over where the fines collected from the cameras would be deposited, at the state-level or at the city-level, since I was not trivially locating the status of the previously proposed state bill/admendment that would have sent the funds to the state and did not pay enough attention to it at the time.

Officials: caught by and caught manipulating

After that you have a variety of public officials that have been caught on-camera with various violations. The policies are at least in place, now, that does have them being responsible for their own violations if there is no record of them having been on some official emergency: Red-light fines to go to police, firefighters Now, though, one news organization is reporting that some red-light camera implementations have been been engineered such that cars traversing the intersections legally (though certainly not advisedly) are being ticketed 0.1 to 0.2 seconds earlier than they should have been. From that article, about 80% of the tickets issues were jumping the gun. For that one, see: Texas Red Light Camera Offenses Require Imagination. The interesting news from that one is that there have been refunds given in response to the appeals.

Not just red lights any more

OK…now the new news is that Texas is proposing British-style camera system be installed along some of the state and interstate highways to measure vehicles’ average speed over a significant distance rather than the point-in-time readings that are currently used via DPS radar and laser instruments. The report on that one says that tickets will be issued for vehicles driving 5 MPH (accuracy of +/- 2 MPH) over the limit, which means a 3 MPH over-the-limit reality could result in a ticket. That news comes from: Texas DOT to Install Federally Funded Highway Speed CamerasTo further mimic the UK, how long before we start to see thefts and counterfeits of license plates to misdirect the tickets? That’s what has been reported in the BBC of how some are recommending an overhaul of the license-plates to escalate that particular arms race. See the: Call for car number plate revamp. (Seen thanks to Bruce Schneier’s blog and his post on: License Plate Cloning)

Most effective way?

To me this leads me to a bunch of questions. Are these truly even a good way to improve safety? Is there any validity to the assumption that safety is truly the motive rather than the cynical line of thought that it is more about incoming cash-flow?

Enter several of my other related vehicle-code and politeness pet-peeves… The use of turn indicators (lighted signals, hands, whatever) are required for turns, lane changes, etc. It is against the code/law not to use them. In my opinion it’s more than that, though, as seeing a turn indicator leads me to the expectation that the driver of the signaling vehicle has thought at least a few seconds ahead to have a plan on where they are going and how they are going to get there. Granted that is by no means always a valid assumption, just like the related concept that observing failure to use a turn indicator does not necessarily indicate that the driver has no plan ahead of them and is instead merely showing the appearance of brownian motion within the confines of the transit system. I certainly tend to think that when driving around here, though.

A little politeness would go a long way, too, but getting into that topic as more than just as a one-line reference would triple the length of this post with anecdotes, so I’ll leave it at that.

Anyway, back to the red-light and speed issues. What are the real root-causes of safety problems on the road and what really are the best ways to address them? Is there already a code or law that applies? If so, then I would posit that the current selective enforcement might be a bigger part of the problem than the other factors to which they keep adding solutions in the form of technology.

And a last few peeves…automation breeds complacency on the burgeoning bureaucracy. Both history and observation of similar systems in other locations/countries lead me to expect this would tend to lead to assumptions of guilt rather than innocence along with the ever increasing surveillance society. If so, that’s certainly a liberty that should not be sacrificed for another illusion of safety.

I’m getting tired and less coherent, so that’s all I have for now…*sigh* <end-rant>

UPDATE #1: New story (with a metric I haven’t checked into enough to decide if it makes sense or not): United Kingdom takes the number one spot in speed camera revenue, loses the number one spot in road safety (using the Fark headline rather than the one with the article). And haven’t some of the cities in Norway begun removing signage and selected limits on urban roads testing (and finding?) an increase in safety, particularly for pedestrians?

UPDATE #2: I had forgotten about this one…one state has declared red-light cameras illegal: Minnesota Supreme Court Strikes Down Red Light Cameras.

UPDATE #3: Two new articles: Colorado: Red Light Camera Increased Accident Rate 45 Percent and North Carolina Supreme Court Eliminates Profit for Red Light Cameras

UPDATE #4: Small Texas law updates where Gov. Perry passes bills allowing counties to reject annual registration for some outstanding camera tickets, and one that prohibits automated systems for speed regulation/


  1. ben

    I think your ” Red-light fines to go to police, firefighters” link is broken. It seems to point back to this entry.

  2. pck

    Ahah, thanks, bad editing, I missed the target when dragging the link in and had href=””http:…, quotes fixed.