Red-light cameras reduce accidents, and we need more

More (mostly) bad news for all you bad drivers out there. (You know who you are ... and the poor souls whose bad luck it is to be driving next to, behind, or in front of you know who you are, too.) While the governor and some people in the state Legislature are looking out for your "right" to endanger others with your selfish disregard for safety, you've only been given a reprieve on the state highways. All of those pesky red-light and speeding cameras here in town are still active, and more are coming online.

Before you start to whine about red-light cameras, here's the latest data. In a study that looked at dozens of cities in the Unites States, red-light cameras were shown to have a stunning impact on red-light running and dangerous right-angle collisions caused by red-light running. In the first year of red-light camera operations, violations dropped:

• by 41 percent in Fairfax, Va.;

• by more than 70 percent in Charlotte, N.C.;

• by 68 percent in San Francisco; and

• by a whopping 92 percent in Los Angeles.

Every city that has used them has seen a drop in red-light running violations and serious right-angle collisions. Some cities showed an increase in rear-end collisions at those intersections, but, since rear-end collisions are, by definition, always caused by the driver in back, it's easy to identify, cite, and punish the bad driver.

There is a very lucrative cottage industry that has sprung up in response to all of the photo-enforcement devices. They offer a variety of products that are supposed to make bad drivers immune to photo-enforcement measures by making license plates unreadable by the traffic cameras. The most common products being hawked are a spray-on lacquer that is supposed to make the camera flash double back on itself, effectively "blinding" the camera. And then there's the license-plate shield, a clear plastic, convex plate cover that features "light-reflecting crystals."

A team of researchers performed an exhaustive study on the efficacy of these countermeasures—testing them alone and in tandem, during daytime and night, and driving into and away from the sun—and found that not only do these products not do what they promise, in some cases, they actually make it easier for the cameras to read the plates!

The results were published in the May 2010 issue of the ITE (Institute of Traffic Engineers) Journal. The cameras were triggered 160 times and, while there was some minor obscuring (more likely caused by the angle of the sun), the license plates were readable all 160 times. Furthermore (and this is fun), during night testing, the license plate shield had no impact on plate readability in 75 percent of the trials, but in the other 25 percent, the plate was even more readable than that of the control vehicle.

So, all you knuckleheads driving tricked-out Hondas with oversized tail pipes, you're out of luck on this one. It's probably better to just stay within the vicinity of the posted speed limit. How boring is that, right? And you can save the money you would have wasted on the shield and/or lacquer and maybe buy one of those Shake Weight things.

Those won't work, either.

There are still plenty of opportunities to be all macho and cause mayhem on Tucson's frontage roads. A study showed that in the last six months of 2009, there were 11 collisions on the frontage roads along Interstate 10 between Miracle Mile and 29th/Silverlake. But in the first six months of this year, there have been 86 collisions.

During the expansion on I-10, people had been using the frontage roads as throughways and some people probably still are. During that construction period, there were no cars entering or exiting the freeway in the downtown area and maybe people just got used to that. But we're coming up on a year since the freeway reopened, so that's no excuse.

I sincerely believe that some people don't know the definition of "yield." They probably think it means "merge," so if they're on the frontage road and they have a half-car lead on the vehicle exiting the freeway, then screw that other guy.

Then, of course, there are significant numbers of people who simply cannot read the sign. Go ahead, somebody PLEASE e-mail me and tell me how it's every human's God-given right to operate a motor vehicle in the United States, even without a license and/or the ability to read and understand basic traffic signs. I'll tell you that you're full of crap and then you can call me a racist.

Because of the configuration of the freeway and the frontage roads, the stop signs that had been in place during the construction had to be replaced by yield signs. How about this? We install cameras at yield points on the frontage roads, but not to give tickets. The footage will only be used in the case of a collision, and then to determine which driver is at fault. (Of course, it will always be the person on the frontage road.)

Or is it unconstitutional to film a lawbreaker in the act of breaking the law?

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