Traffic-cams and accident responsibility

by Walter Olson on April 5, 2012

A letter to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel defends traffic-cams on grounds unrelated to the tickets they generate:

I was broadsided by a red-light runner four blocks from my house. …

Shaken and confused, I watched the other driver come out of her car and start screaming that I ran the red light. When bystanders started to gather, she dropped to the ground crying in pain.

Four days after the accident, while I was still dealing with injuries and insurance companies, I received a thick envelope in the mail from an attorney the driver had hired to sue me.

Fortunately, that same day, the city of Orlando produced a video of the accident taken by a red-light camera installed at the intersection. It showed the light had been red for several seconds before the driver entered the intersection. ….

It should be noted that much of the critique of cameras — such as the shortened-yellow problem, the incentive they afford for governments to hammer motorists on relatively minor violations such as rolling right turns under safe conditions, the use of presumptions of guilt to get registered owners to “tell on” family members, and their invitation for further expansion of surveillance — involve changes in the relationship of the citizen to the state, to the latter’s advantage. Like other uses of surveillance cameras, traffic-cams undoubtedly do produce some positive externalities, which should hardly settle the ongoing controversy about their use.

{ 21 comments }

1 VMS 04.05.12 at 7:55 am

If the author of the letter to the editor feels that it is necessary to have a video record of everything, she is free to install a dash cam or other video equipment in her car. These traffic cams create many more problems than they solve including major congestion as drivers who know about them slow down to a crawl to ensure that they will not be trapped by the quick yellows.

2 Robert 04.05.12 at 10:01 am

My first thought agrees with VMS. Cars should have a set of cameras that record 360 degrees around your vehicle that the driver can choose to use (or not) if he finds himself in a situation.

3 Ron Miler 04.05.12 at 10:39 am

There is major congestion as a result people driving slow to avoid getting caught by red lights? This is just not a true statement.

Walter, the byproduct may not drive the car but it is something to be considered in the calculus, right?

4 Frank 04.05.12 at 12:15 pm

‘Relatively minor violations such as rolling right turns’

Spoken as someone who has never ridden a motorcycle (nor perhaps crossed streets on foot at intersections).

Literally dozens of times the rolling right turns of careless drivers (who are the people who make rolling right turns) have endangered my property, limb and life, which have been saved only by my alertness and driving ability. Just freaking stop for a second, huh?

5 Val 04.05.12 at 12:49 pm

I wish the camera had triggered at my accident scene.

I was in a right turn lane. The arrow was red and the line of cars were making the right on red. The arrow turned green. The lady in front started going through and she stopped (no pedestrians can cross at this intersection and the other “arrowed” people can’t make a U-turn). Cops had no idea why she stopped mid-turn. Of course, it was rainy and I was driving an SUV.

Presumption I was at fault b/c old lady panicked or something. Video would have revealed she stopped mid-light as witness said same thing, but gave bad contact information. Now, I’m paying for higher insurance b/c she screwed up.

6 John Burgess 04.05.12 at 1:05 pm

@Robert: Unless there is created a law to explicitly prevent it, those 360° cameras are subject to subpoena and/or seizure as evidence of a crime. While the 30 seconds or so surrounding an accident might be useful, what about the previous 24 hours? While viewing for the accident, plain view doctrine would leave the entire contents of the tape available. Any wrongdoing, even if unrelated to the traffic incident, would then become open to police action.

Would 5th Amendment protections reach to cover the driver’s recordings? Interesting to find out, but I’ll let someone else do the heavy lifting.

7 gitarcarver 04.05.12 at 3:40 pm

There is major congestion as a result people driving slow to avoid getting caught by red lights? This is just not a true statement.

As someone who has traveled in an through Orlando, I can tell you that the statement is true, Ron. The traffic accordions when approaching the intersections with red light cameras.

That being said, Orlando has put a hold on expanding their red light camera program because the state passed laws requiring more money generated from the fines go to the state, rather than the local government who pays for the cameras and oversight of the camera programs.

Add to that the fact that a Florida judge has ruled the cameras are against the Constitution, we may be seeing the death knoll starting to ring on these insidious money generators.

Cameras that monitor traffic are fine. Cameras that generate revenue are not.

8 Don 04.05.12 at 5:51 pm

I think this is a good point. Traffic monitoring cameras, which don’t issue tickets, could produce exactly the same footage the person in the editorial is praising.

9 Cjohn 04.05.12 at 6:12 pm

A few things crossed my mind as I read this: 
(1) The admissibility of RL photos in civil cases (as proof of “guilt”) is, I believe, an open question in FL. 
(2) Wouldn’t you need a subpoena to get the RL footage? (Video ex machina?)
(3) Overall, the letter has the same rhetorical motif common to PR-written letters.

10 Hikaru Katayamma 04.05.12 at 6:48 pm

Red light cameras don’t prevent accidents. We’ve seen enough proof of that. However, here in Overland Park (KS), they have traffic cameras on tops of the light poles at each intersection that clearly show what color the light is that it’s facing, as well as a clear view of the intersection via fish eye lens. To be honest, I didn’t like the “big brother” ability to watch you until I got to tour the control center and saw that the camera images aren’t good enough to give a license plate–just show you what traffic is doing and spot accidents.

I still don’t like the British “we can read the plate” cameras, but I’m all for the low-end stuff we have here.

Cheers!!

11 Paul W Dennis 04.05.12 at 9:13 pm

The people that most dislike the red light cameras are (1) those who habitually run red lights and (2) person injury lawyers representing injured parties who happen to be lying about what happened in the accident

12 David Schwartz 04.05.12 at 9:54 pm

John Burgess: 30 minute recording capacity unless you stop them. Hit a button and it’s as if they weren’t on. Problem solved.

13 Mark Phaedrus 04.05.12 at 11:28 pm

David Schwartz: Problem not exactly solved. Suppose my car has one of these cameras, and the police or the other party subpoena the video, and I say “Sorry, but the camera erased it automatically after 30 minutes.” Okay, I’ve now solved the problem of the video actually getting into someone else’s hands. But it would seem to me that the other party would have a very strong line of argument: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Mr. Phaedrus’ car was equipped with a camera that recorded the entire incident. Now, if Mr. Phaedrus was in fact not at fault, what would have been his first thought? Save the video. That’s what that camera was there for — to provide indisputable evidence of who was at fault. And it would have been so easy. A push of a button, and the evidence would be here in front of you. And yet he didn’t do it. He didn’t press that button. Ladies and gentlemen, if Mr. Phaedrus was not at fault, can you think of a single reason why he wouldn’t have pressed that button? I can’t. And what does that tell us?”

14 Bumper 04.05.12 at 11:45 pm

No Paul, the people who dislike red light cameras are appalled by the utter and abject dishonesty shown by those who sell them as a safety measure and those who buy them as a safety measure when it’s really about nothing but the money. If the article occasional on OL aren’t enough to convince you, drop by http://thenewspaper.com/ The recent events in Washington state, Houston, TX, etc., ad nauseum, show these companies for what they are … rotten to core. The shortening of the yellow has been show to increase accidents, but increase tickets. Every study I have read shows that lengthening the yellow reduces accidents and running red lights.

In our community when the local council discovered the kickback’s in the contract they just shut them off and said sue us. So far they haven’t, probably with good reason, they don’t want the additional adverse publicity. Whatever little good might come from the events in lead article are quickly overshadowed by the evil quest for the almighty dollar.

15 Walter Olson 04.05.12 at 11:55 pm

>Frank ‘Relatively minor violations such as rolling right turns’

Somehow you snipped off the final three words, “under safe conditions.” If you believe that there are no conditions in which slowing to 2 mph rather than 0 is in fact safe, no matter how deserted the intersection and flawless the visibility, I suppose we will have to disagree.

I am always amazed there are cyclists so rash as to try to pass on the right of a car that is signaling a right turn at a stop sign, whether it has slowed to a complete stop or not. But then I also wonder why so many cyclists engaged in sharing the road with cars interpret stop signs and red lights as not applying to them.

16 Not a traffic attorney 04.06.12 at 8:31 am

Val,

My take (I didn’t come here to give you a hard time).

If you rear ended her you are at fault. The fact that she set you up may give you the moral high ground but if she stopped and you hit her -you were at fault.

Regrets,

17 The Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk 04.06.12 at 11:42 am

Not a Traffic Attorney,

To the extent that you are saying that, as a matter of law, the driver of the trailing vehicle always is at fault in a rear-end collision, that is not so, at least not in any jurisdiction that I am familiar with. See, e.g., Lovell v. Stanford, 386 S.W.2d 755 (Tex. 1965) (reversing on ground that negligence and proximate cause were issues for the jury in accident case involving two rear-end collisions about which the driver testimony was in dispute). My sense is that this is a common, but mistaken, belief about the law.

In many (perhaps most) cases, jurors are likely to find the driver of the trailing vehicle at fault (due to failure to keep a proper lookout, failure to maintain an appropriate interval, etc.) to some degree, but there could be any number of circumstances where it is not necessarily so. And, in today’s world of comparative fault, even if jurors find the driver of the trailing vehicle primarily to blame for an accident, they still may apportion some portion of the responsibility for the accident to the other driver.

18 Jesse Spurway 04.06.12 at 12:23 pm

I with Paul on this.
Bumper, the obvious answer is don’t run the red light. That way you do the right thing and get to piss off those nasty money grubbers.
How many people getting killed by red light runners are needed to offset that darn slow traffic excuse?
And Paul forgot , (3) folks who think 1 minute of their life is more imprtant than the rest of someone else’s.

19 Bumper 04.06.12 at 6:28 pm

Jesse. I have a friend who has become somewhat of an expert in red light cameras. The research he has collected proves that with the lowered yellow times it is impossible to stop in time to avoid running the red light. Also the data about saving lives and reducing T-bones is also suspect in light of reducing the yellow times.

As WO can verify I was a fan of red light cameras when they first came out. Now I realize that do not have anything to do with safety, they are all about the money. Period. It is all about the money.

The two main companies that sell red light cameras go to great lengths, sometimes of questionable honesty, to prevent citizens voting on whether they should be allowed in a community. In all of the elections held in the US over red light cameras, the only one where the cameras won was in a town outside of St Louis where they had the policemen going door to door telling people that they would have to be laid off if the red light cameras lost.

Ask yourself why do so many states/counties/cities go to such great lengths to make it so hard/expensive/impossible to contest a red light cameras.

Because it is all about the money.

20 gitarcarver 04.06.12 at 8:59 pm

That way you do the right thing and get to piss off those nasty money grubbers.

That would be correct if the “money grubbers” were paid only on the basis of people the cameras “caught” breaking the law. They are not. In Orlando, for example, the company that owns the cameras is paid a over $4200 per camera, per month before the camera has even taken a picture.

21 Frank 04.10.12 at 10:05 am

“Somehow you snipped off the final three words, “under safe conditions.””

I did do that accidently, but as the way to ensure that entering an intersection with traffic flowing against one is to stop, look and listen, there is no safe condition to roll through the stop signal.

” I am always amazed there are cyclists so rash as to try to pass on the right of a car that is signaling a right turn at a stop sign, whether it has slowed to a complete stop or not”

In all honesty, I have never seen this. It makes no sense to me – why would I (or another motorcyclist) put my unprotected body intentionally in the path of a car? Of course, if the car is actually stopped, the driver has the opportunity to observe the cyclist (who is apparently making a “rolling right turn” which I am arguing is not a safe manouveur) and avoid a collision.

I have of course seen/had cars pass me on my right – not only stopped and signalling to make a turn (in a right turn only lane), but simply riding down the highway and suburban or bucolic byway.

Any action which requires less care on the road is a dangerous action to others oin the road.

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