Vinnie’s Position on Red Light Cameras

I know it’s been quite a quite long time since I’ve posted a blog post but what the heck. Here goes.


My biggest concern in thinking about this issue is that we cannot put revenue concerns over safety concerns. While some have claimed that red light cameras are implemented to create revenue at the expense of safety, I don’t believe that is the case. I believe that red light cameras provide a cost effective way to enforce traffic laws related to red light violations.

The concerns I’ve heard about red light cameras and my thoughts on these are below.

Adding time to the yellow phase – One idea I’ve heard is that we could improve safety by adding 0.7 seconds to the yellow phase. I found out from City staff that we employ a one (1.0) second all-red phase at intersections where we have red light cameras instead. This seems to be an even more effective safety measure than extending the yellow time. Our yellow times are in conformance with industry standards (MUTCD). The all-red time is in addition to these standards.

Decreasing the amount of the fine – Another complaint I’ve heard is that the fine is too steep. It is indeed a very large fine, nearly $500 which is very hard on most people. However, the amount of the fine is set at the state level. The City is not at liberty to set the amount of the fine.

The cameras are a cash cow for the City – The City does make approximately $250,000 a year on the cameras. This is after the cost of paying for the cameras and accounting for staff time involved in reviewing the data provided by the cameras. Officers review all of the evidence before sending out any tickets. While this is a net plus for the City, it is a very small percentage of the City’s budget. The positive revenue we are getting for this is not the main incentive for the program. I would likely be in favor of continuing the program if the revenue dropped to zero or even if it went slightly negative.

The cameras invade one’s privacy – I don’t believe this is an issue. If you are driving at an intersection the public at large can see you and there is no expectation of privacy. If the information about where you were is somehow used against you (i.e. you told your spouse you were someplace else), that’s not the City’s problem.

In short, we need to enforce red light laws as a matter of general safety. The cameras provide a cost-effective and objective method for enforcing these laws. Having a police officer manually enforce these will pull them away from other tasks. It is also dangerous as the officer often has to run a red light themselves in order to catch the offender. The Fremont Police Department likes the cameras because they are such an effective enforcement tool.

Several years ago I got a red light ticket via a camera. The objective evidence captured by the camera made it very clear that I ran the light. That was a few years ago and now there is video evidence making it even more convincing. The good news is that the experience has changed my behavior for the better and I haven’t gotten another ticket since then. The data from the police confirm that my experience is typical of most drivers.

I’ve learned that if you simply don’t try to “go for it” in those iffy situations, you will not get a ticket.

6 Responses to “Vinnie’s Position on Red Light Cameras”

  1. Mr. Bacon,

    As tax-paying citizens, one thing we look to our government for is trust and honesty. I was ticketed for a U-Turn violation a few years back (not a red light), but I went to court to dispute it. The outrage of average citizens over the Red Light fines and the extremely high fine costs were shocking. The judge is not at liberty to reduce the fines, and these are a very harsh burden on low income residents.

    Trust in government is a very precious thing. What these Red Light systems do is undermine trust in government: everyone believes that they are harsh revenue generators for the City, plain and simple.

    How many times one can sit at OTHER intersections in Fremont, watch red light violation after red light violation, while the police do NOTHING.

    MOST of the violations are for “right on red” without stopping NOT speed-induced direct violations. Clearly this is a revenue scheme for the city. PERIOD.

    When the police complain that the citizens do not respect them, this is the No. 1 reason why.

    It is short-sited for Fremont to have these cameras and ignore how they undermine citizen’s faith in government.

    I suggest you take a day, sit in the court and watch low-income person after low-income person plead for mercy and be CRUSHED by the state of California over these fines.

    Then when it turns out that the police are hated by low income residents, it will all make sense.

    This is a VERY short sighted policy on behalf of the city. As our ELECTED representative, it would be much more convincing if your represented the citizens and not the bureaucracy on this issue.

    There are much more effective ways to promote safety, such as reducing the police hangouts at Peet’s coffee and asking them to actually go out and catch criminals rather than do nothing, while cameras generate tax revenue.

    Best regards,

    Jason McDonald
    Fremont Resident

  2. Bill Spicer says:

    Hi Vinnie,
    I am opposed to your rationale on the Red Light problem. Your stand is very Orwellian. I dislike sounding Libertarian. I believe Government should be for the citizens, not against them. You also stated that if the person gets nailed enough by red lights, they will behave. That is very Pavlovian thinking it has no place for a elected officials.
    I feel the same way about surveillance camera’s. I plan on making this a election campaign issue.
    These are two issues I feel strong about.
    I support your stances on infilling and the Connolly’s issue.
    Regards Bill

  3. Paul Avanzino says:

    Vinnie,
    (1) Adding time to the yellow phase and having a 1 second all-red phase at intersections are not mutually exclusive ideas. Fremont can have both extended yellow lights and a 1 second all-red phase. If safety is the goal, this is a no-brainer. Try Googling Oakland red light camera yellow lights and read The Mercury News’ 10/07/2012 article on the matter. You will find that Oakland was too successful in reducing red light violations in the city when they extended yellow light times.
    (2) A $490 fine is an exorbitant amount for a fine. $490 is over 6 days of full time gross pay for somebody making $10/hr. For many of your constituents on the lower end of the social ladder, $490 is a month’s rent. $490 is a lot to pay for a half-second mistake, or rolling through a right hand turn, and this does not take into account additional fees for traffic school or increased insurance costs. This is a large hidden tax on your constituents. If it is in fact true that Fremont has no control over the amount of this fine, then the Fremont city council should grow a conscience and choose not to automate the state’s revenue extortion tactics.
    (3) $250,000 is a lot of money. For example, that is over 7X the funding you requested the city to provide to LEAF to help pay for a community garden. If revenue needs to be raised, do it the right and fair way by raising taxes instead of taking it from those unlucky enough to be selected by these red light cameras.
    Additionally, how about a re-evaluation of how traffic laws are enforced using the red light cameras. Choose to only ticket the most egregious, the most dangerous straight-through red light runners, instead of ticketing those who slightly roll through a right hand turn while riding the brakes. This is a significantly less of a safety issue that should not be penalized at the same level as the straight-through violators.

  4. MikeOnBike says:

    I agree that government is “of the people, by the people, for the people”. That includes people at the intersection who are put in danger when somebody runs a red light.

    If we’re picking sides, I’d like government to be FOR the citizens who are NOT running red lights, and against those who are. I have a hard time defending the opposite.

  5. Mrs H says:

    The solution to these cameras is to do what they do in every other city that has these cameras. Instead of showing a green man or flashing hand for the pedestrians, use a backwards counting timer display that allows pedestrians to know how much time they actually have to cross the street and allows drivers to know how much time they have before the light is going to turn yellow. That way, you don’t break out in a cold sweat and have a panic attack because you don’t know how much time you have left before the light turns and should you speed up to an unsafe speed or slam on the brakes and cause an accident.

  6. Sharon Guthrie says:

    Could traffic signals change to all being red from 11 pm until 5 am – having to sit at a traffic light for 90-seconds is annoying since no other vehicles are even seen during that time of night

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