Los Angeles was in the news this week for questioning the value of renewing a contract with the company that installed more than 1,000 “red-light” cameras in the city. The final decision, which is likely to make LA the 15th major city to reverse an unmanned camera policy to police red-light violators, is worthy of some investigation.
Investigation which was aired tonight on ABC World News. The story made two significant points: Accidents have actually INCREASED instead of going down. Proponents of the effectiveness of the red-light cameras counter by saying that the type of accident has changed, from the more serious and oftentimes fatal “T-bone” collision to the side of the vehicle, to the less dangerous rear-end collision. The second point that I found particularly interesting is that only about half the offenders pay the fine, the rest walk away with literally no consequences: no action against their license, no insurance repercussions, and no serious attempt by city or state to collect the fine.
I found this second point particularly interesting because of my one and only experience with the red-light camera.
Going south from my home on Interstate 5, there is an almost unique exit into San Juan Capistrano called the Ortega Highway exit. There are four factors of concern when one takes this exit. All are exacerbated by unfamiliarity with the exit. First, exiting, one has about 400 feet to adjust from highway speed (about 65 mph) to ramp exit speed (posted as 45 mph), and less than 200 feet to adjust to street traffic speed (25 mph). Second, one has to read two street signs (normal signs rather than large freeway exit signs) while braking to that street traffic speed. One sign directs one to the San Juan Mission, a very popular choice. The other directs one to downtown SJC and, as it turns out, to the business I was travelling.
Third, if one is attempting to visit a business, which I was, one has to negotiate through four lanes of traffic in less than 200 feet to make the turn. One has to do this while looking 180 degrees away from those street signs to check on oncoming traffic that is travelling at least 25 mph, many going to the Mission and making the choice of moving to the right lane, across which one is travelling.
Finally, one has to check the status of the caution light (set at 15 seconds, commiserate with adjusting to traffic travelling at 25 mph) which is in the opposite direction to checking the oncoming traffic. The red light camera is on top of the caution light.
When I checked the caution light it was changing to red and I felt it safer to continue at 25 mph rather than quickly stop and risk being rear-ended by the oncoming car behind me. Perhaps a safer choice, but I saw the dreaded flash and the dozens of emails flashed simultaneously in my mind,
“So I asked the court, since the picture was so good, could I use it for my headshot?” “So, I sent them a picture of my check for the fine and they responded with a picture of their handcuffs.” “So I told them the picture wasn’t of me, no matter what the license plate said, and they replied they really could care less.”
I didn’t actually do any of those things. What I did was appear, along with about 30 other people in a mandatory settlement appearance. Twenty-eight of the thirty accepted the court’s suggestion to plead guilty, avoid the fine, and attend traffic school for $250 or so. One other person and I chose to appear in court at a later date and I posted $237 bond for that privilege.
The first part of the court appearance consisted of a presentation by the sheriff with a 6’x8’ white board with locations of all the items listed above and a 10-minute Power Point presentation about calibration, safety statistics, and explanations of the caution light interval and the speed limit reasonableness. Any questions? One. “Were you there when my picture was taken?” Answer, “No.”
My turn. I made all the points listed above and then suggested that if there had been an authority at the scene I would have, at the most, been given a warning ticket, an option unavailable to the camera.
The judge found my argument lacking sufficient reason and found me guilty. The fine was $125 and the remaining $117 of my bond was returned to me in about seven business days.
I never reported this infraction to my insurance company, nor did the sheriff. Consequently I had nothing on my insurance record. Three years (and more) have passed and I have nothing on my driving record. SJC may believe they have fewer accidents, but ABC news may believe otherwise.
Have any of you experience with the red-light cameras?
Next Saturday I think I will share my reflections on an entertainer, recently passed: Glen Campbell. See you then.