The public safety subcommittee hears public input on red-light cameras.

Oakland City Council subcommittee delays decision on red-light camera program

on October 10, 2012

Oakland’s use of red-light cameras to catch traffic violators came under legal and moral scrutiny Tuesday night, as a City Council subcommittee heard reports from police and special consultants about the effectiveness of these cameras, as well as citizen complaints about this program and the $500 tickets it produces.

After community members argued that the cameras were being used more for profit than for public safety, and Oakland police said information on the cameras’ usefulness was still inconclusive,  the four council members of the public safety subcommittee postponed until February a decision on either abandoning or expanding the controversial program, which currently has 13 cameras operating at 11 Oakland intersections. The council ordered more detail be gathered on the effectiveness of these red-light cameras in reducing the number of Oakland traffic collisions compared to other intersection safety strategies such as increasing the length of yellow lights.

“My inclination is to ask that they go do some more analysis,” Patricia Kernighan said Tuesday. “”It appears to me there is a lot of uncertainty.”

Members of the public argued on Tuesday night that the cameras are being used to generate revenue rather than to reduce collisions, an accusation that would make the use of these cameras illegal under new legislation passed by Governor Jerry Brown.

Another point of contention was the high ticket price for these red-light violations—which citizens can keep off their driving record by choosing traffic school, but the traffic class costs as much as the ticket. “$500 is ridiculous,” said Oakland resident Linda Olivera, who recently successfully appealed a ticket she’d been issued. “I’m insulted by it.”

The council’s decision-making process is stalled while members wait for more evidence to support either conclusion: that the red-light cameras do, in fact, increase public safety; or rather that they simply increase red-light violations. The report OPD gave city council members does show that collision rates at intersections overseen by red-light cameras have decreased by 53 percent between the 2009 camera installations and the end of 2011, according to Oakland Lieutenant Peter Lau.  But there has been “no analysis of traffic data,” Lau said, “as to whether there is any correlation between this trend and the installation of the cameras.”

Roger Jones, leader of the Fremont-based Red Light Camera Protest Group, argued that collision rates were dropping in Oakland before the installation of the cameras, and that the cameras cannot be given credit for this trend without further evidence. Jones, who since 2009 has been leading a campaign against the use of red-light cameras in Alameda County, accused the City Council of installing the cameras solely for revenue. He cited research published by Safer Streets LA, a southern California organization that collects and analyzes traffic data, which asserts that extending the length of yellow lights has a much greater impact on public safety than does installing red-light cameras.

“Extend the yellow light, and you’ll have less violations,” Jones said Tuesday. “It solves the problem in real life.”

From now until the council makes its decision in February, Oakland’s existing cameras will continue in operation while the contract with Redflex Traffic System Inc., the company that provides the cameras, proceeds on a month-to-month basis. The report to be presented in February will include a comparison of the effectiveness of yellow light extension and red-light cameras on road safety.

Complicating the accusation that the high-price tickets are being generated primarily for profit is the fact that the actual city of Oakland sees relatively little—about $130—of the fines collected by these citations. “City fees for red light violation is $130,” said Lau. “The difference between that and the $500 are various fees set at the state and county level.”

Before the council adjourned for the evening, Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan added that she would like the February report to include a specific breakdown of exactly what happens to the money from these tickets. “People have $500 of anger at Oakland,” Kaplan said, “but Oakland is only taking $130.”

Towards the end of the meeting, after a half-dozen Oakland residents had come to the podium to complain about the city’s use of red-light cameras, councilwoman Nancy Nadel sat forward and asked the audience: “In terms of bias, if you’re against the cameras, raise your hands if you’ve gotten a ticket.” Nearly all the audience members raised their hands.

In February, the subcommittee will make hear an a analysis of the effectiveness of red-light cameras versus other comparable techniques of increasing road safety, along with a breakdown of the smaller fees that make up the $500 ticket and a report from the Oakland City Attorney on the current legality of red-light cameras in California. Theoretically, they will then make a decision about the future of red-light cameras in Oakland.

4 Comments

  1. James Walker on October 11, 2012 at 8:21 am

    (This is a copy of an email I sent to the committee.)
    It is good that the city will look closely at the yellow interval issue. I would make or repeat several points.

    1. Yellow intervals should be set correctly for minimum violations and maximum safety, with or without cameras present. If the yellows at camera intersections are a bit too short and are set the same way as at intersections without cameras, that just means that all the yellows are too short for maximum safety and minimum violations.

    2. With clear evidence that lengthening the yellows reduced violations by about 50% in your city, we can find no justification to reset them shorter again, with or without cameras. Safety and minimum violations should be the goal of all traffic engineers and their employing political entities – with or without a revenue stream from cameras.

    3. A summary and a link to the most definitive study ever done on yellow intervals versus violation rates and safety is here: http://www.motorists.org/red-light-cameras/effect-yellow-timing ; The 50% reduction the city got with slightly longer yellows is normal and proper, if safety and minimum violations is the real goal. The increased violations the city got when they were shortened again is also normal but is entirely improper.

    4. If you download and read the 130+ page study above you will see that about 60% of all red light violations occur in the first half-second of red and about 80% in the first full second. Increasing the yellows by one second will almost always reduce the straight through violations by 50% and often by more than that. There are many examples here:
    http://www.motorists.org/red-light-cameras/yellow-lights ; with reductions of up to 92% with safer, longer yellow intervals.

    5. If the TRUE goal is fewer red light violations, there is no other rational choice but to use safer, longer yellows.

    6. If, on the other hand, the true goal is camera ticket revenue, then using less-safe shorter yellows is the surest way to enhance the revenue stream, but often at the cost of higher accident rates. http://www.motorists.org/red-light-cameras/increase-accidents

    How a city chooses to set the yellow intervals is a very clear indication of which goal is more important to that city.

    The best result is for a city to drop the cameras entirely as about 35 California cities have done so far. Then there is no financial temptation to engineer the intersections for anything other than safety.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, Ann Arbor, MI



  2. Roger Jones on October 11, 2012 at 8:46 am

    Here is more about the cost of a ticket. First off, most receive a ticket for a rolling right OR for being less than 5/10’s – 7/10’s of a second late into the intersection. For many commercially licensed drivers, the fine is much more than $480. It can run into thousands of dollars. Someone with a commercial license is not allowed to attend traffic school to keep the point off their insurance record. This is true even if they were cited driving the family sedan. Their insurance will likely go up. If this point is their second point, their employer may fire them, not wanting to pay higher insurance premiums for its employee. Many truckers obtain attorneys to try to get moving violations converted to a lesser, non-moving, violation. This is becoming increasingly more difficult to do, even for attorneys. I believe truckers get a disproportionate share of these camera tickets and I can explain that in the next posting. Total cost may be loss of job and increased insurance. The $480 fine is the least of their problems.



  3. Henry on October 11, 2012 at 9:41 am

    The cameras are never gonna go away, because there’s too much money being handed around – to the city, the state, the camera company. So, to cope, every motorist in California needs to know about Snitch Tickets, the fake/phishing red light camera tickets sent out by California police to bluff the registered owner into identifying the actual driver of the car. (In NorCal, Citrus Hts, Daly City, Elk Grove, Hayward, Marysville, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Modesto, Newark, Oakland, Redding, San Mateo, San Leandro, South SF and Stockton use them.) Snitch Tickets have not been filed with the court, so they don’t say “Notice to Appear,” don’t have the court’s addr. and phone #, and usually say (on the back, in small letters), “Do not contact the court about this notice.” Since they have NOT been filed with the court, they have no legal weight whatsoever. You can ignore a Snitch Ticket. If in doubt, Google the term. And once you understand how tricky a Snitch Ticket is, tell your friends who live in or visit California about them, so that they won’t get tricked.

    Also, a REAL camera ticket from ANY city in LA County can be ignored, as the LA courts do not report ignored tickets to the DMV. (This was revealed in multiple LA Times articles last summer. It is applicable ONLY to cities in LA county.)



  4. Rob on June 2, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Was there ever any follow up to this issue? The price has gone up, as of May 2013, it’s $540.



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