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Questions on Red Light Cameras

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Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Questions on Red Light Cameras

Bill Crittenden
November 19, 2009

Red light cameras have been spreading through Illinois about as quickly as swine flu.  I haven't gotten a ticket yet myself, being a (some say overly) cautious driver, but I have observed two potential problems with the cameras, and was curious if anyone had definitive answers.

First, as a bit of background, I have observed that when a red light is legitimately "run," the cameras flash once.  Thanks to the darkness of my early morning hours and general interest in automotive issues, this is the sort of thing I watch on my otherwise boring commutes to work.

Presumably, the operator at the other end gets the one picture (if there were more, wouldn't the camera flash again?), and can't see a progression of events through the intersection.

If that is the case, the lack of a progression of events is particularly troubling to those who don't actually run the lights, but find themselves on the wrong side of the camera's in-ground sensors.  Two events I observed in the last two days bring up some questions about the cameras.

Yesterday, on the way home from work I drove Route 22 until its end at Route 14.  When Route 22 ends, you can either turn left or right on Route 14.  This is a red-light camera intersection.  I noticed as I pulled up, as is usually the case, several cars lined up to turn right, and turning right on red as openings occurred in the Route 14 traffic.  Three cars made the turn before I got to the intersection, and each time the camera behind them flashed.  How does the camera know it was a legal right turn on red?  Without video showing the cars coming to a stop, they wouldn't, and presumably the cameras can't tell the difference or they would recognize a legal right turn and not flash.  Why is there even a camera enabled for that lane of the intersection, considering just how many cars make that right turn on red and how it's impossible to go straight through the intersection?

A few days ago (November 16), I saw a Chevrolet conversion van pull up to the camera-monitored northbound light at the intersection of Route 12 and Bonner Road in Wauconda.  As is common with many drivers, the van edged forward until its tires were on the stop line.  This is, I have noticed, become a common habit since the installation of in-road sensors to trip stop lights.  Many drivers roll right up to the stop lines to make sure they're on the sensor and not stuck at the light.  Not necessary when one is on Route 12, but old habits die hard, don't they?  As the tire rolled onto the line, the camera behind us flashed.  Since I know from all-too-frequent observation that the cameras at this intersection to flash once when a car blows the light, how will the people on the other end writing the tickets know that the van didn't proceed through the intersection?

Chevrolet Conversion Van at Red Light View picture, 235KB
Do the authorities even care?  It's been noted that people's behaviors on the internet can be atrocious compared to how we behave "in real life," and that often we'll write or say things to people online that we never would to a person's face.  Is this an extension of that?  Are the managers who operate these cameras for municipalities able to churn out thousands of anonymous "computer-generated" tickets for offenses that no police officer I know would write a ticket for?  Presuming all these flashes aren't just for show and that tickets are written, can you imagine an officer writing a ticket at a traffic stop for the reasons these cameras do?

"I'm giving you a ticket for blowing through that red light."  "But officer, I stopped before turning right, it was a legal turn."  "Well, I don't know that you stopped because I didn't see you stop, by the time I was looking your car was already in the intersection.  All I saw was you driving through a red light and you're not supposed to drive through red lights. Here's your ticket."



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