The growing rate of those pesky red light cameras

They’re everywhere and counting.  What started as a quest for safer streets with less accidents is turning out to be one big profit motivated endeavor that has the city saying ka-ching while laughing all the way to the bank.

First, let’s see how this contraption really works:

According to the image, there are “wireless detection sensors” underneath the targeted crosswalks, and the entire conviction process is basically done in 2 quick easy steps:

1- you trip the “wireless detection sensor” also known as the induction loop trigger that alerts the radar camera, but before this is achieved, the system triggers an electromagnetic grid system that will pinpoint the vehicle in motion.  (Mind you, that there is also a video back up system that is easily stored in the computer data banks.)

2- the radar then records the moving vehicle in the crosswalk grid and syncs the camera to flash and snap the image (say cheese…)

Simple, right?  I think so…

Here are some basic things to consider:

Apparently, in order to trip the sensor, the light is still in its yellow phase 2/3 of the way to switching to red (the sign of Satan…) This is what the driver encounters due to his travel speed that is always above the speed limit posted.  (C’mon- it’s NEW YORK CITY!)   Now, this transition various from county-to-county and state-to-state depending on the type of traffic flow system you’re on; usually this signal changing process from yellow to red takes about 1-2 seconds longer in those multi laned boulevards.  Either way, the system is tripped right before the color change takes place.  The system is designed to record a minimum speed of 4mph, so if you’re in gridlock or moving at a snail’s pace, you most likely will not see a flash.  Or, if you’re not moving, you have no worries.  That’s why it is never activated in traffic or grid locks.

In some states, the system targets the driver, but in New York they target the vehicle.  The states that target the driver have a front facing camera that takes a shot of the front.  This technology will most likely be applied to the city’s speed cams that will be in effect soon.  So,  if someone borrows your car, they will not be technically responsible for the action.  The violation will be the burden of the owner or registrant of the vehicle, which can be a pretty long-ass day in motor vehicles if you moved and never got the mail…

When you do get flashed and inherit a violation, it is not a moving violation as if a cop stops you, which can lead to insurance points that can raise your premium.  But here’s the catch, if you decide to plead not guilty to the incident and decide to fight it, the ruling will transform into a moving violation that can ultimately affect your insurance premium by racking up points.  So, New York City will basically look the other way as long as you pay the $50 fine to the private company that is contracted to manage the system.  Some law enforcement- right?

According to Federal law, New York City is only allowed 50 of these lights to be operational at one given moment out of the lastest figure of 440. (WOW – 440 !!!)  We really don’t know if there is a shred of proof regarding this miserable fact…  In busy intersections due to constant gridlock, some of these cameras are disabled during the day but can be switched on at night.  50 is supposed to be the magic number- yeah right!

City buses are supposedly exempt from violations as well as emergency vehicles in the act of responding, but there have been cases of transit bus drivers being cited, so the MTA never pays, but makes their drivers foot the bill.

So, are there any ways to fight it?

According to one source, yes, but it is a bitch of an endeavor…

“1. There is a Federal Dept. of Transportation law that ALL yellow lights must have a minimum 3 second duration. This duration INCREASES with higher speed limits posted on the street where a red light and a camera is located, and also increases depending on the grade of the road. A traffic light on a steep hill road SHOULD have a longer yellow light than one on a level road given the same posted speed limit.

2. In New York City the city speed limit is 30 MPH and ALL yellow lights on level roads should have a MINIMUM 3 second duration.
Perhaps this is due to a faulty timing mechanism, BUT MOST LIKELY the yellow lights have been rigged to a less than 3 sec. duration to cause more drivers to run thru a red light, and get their photo taken by the camera. The city makes A LOT of money that way along with the private contractor who installs and operates the camera.

3. Next time you get a red light camera fine in the mail, go to the intersection, use your cell phone’s stopwatch function and TIME THE YELLOW LIGHT. Do that about 5-10 times and average the results. ALL the timings, as well as their average, should be MORE than 3.0 seconds.
IF NOT, that’s an illegal yellow light and NYC is essentially ROBBING YOU.

4. There is a 100% chance that even if you document this and go in for a hearing YOU WILL STILL BE FOUND GUILTY AND HAVE TO PAY because the city will CLAIM that AT THE TIME the photo was taken the light was operating properly.

5. NOW if you REALLY want to defend yourself against an illegal yellow light, OR YOU SIMPLY WANT TO THROW A MONKEY WRENCH into the system: FILE A FREEDOM OF INFORMATION LAW REQUEST – FOIL -with the New York City Dept. of Transportation requesting ALL maintenance records and light timing adjustments and benchmark tests and any other defect corrections done to that light for the period of time that you are interested in. The longer your request the more NYC DOT will have to dig and chances are you’ll get some data to help in your defense (an unusually high # of repairs in the X number of months before you got your photo taken, for instance). Now, IF there is a record that the light timings were adjusted soon after your photo was taken, you have a very good case of a defective light and possibly avoiding the fine.

NOW, IF EVERYONE WHO GOT A PHOTO AND A FINE DID THIS it would cost the city much more than the fine. Complying with LOTS OF FOIL requests is time consuming and requires a lot of manpower.
File your FOIL request with the:
Litigation Support
New York City Dept. of Transportation
55 Water Street
New York, NY 10041

Another alternative is simple prevention.

The city has been installing newer crosswalk signals that actually display a countdown, in seconds, that alert the driver contemplating a traffic signal change.  These are actually a godsend when placed at these red light camera scenarios.

So, I ask the city, if pedestrians can get a timed crosswalk traffic signal queue, then why can’t the drivers get one for the traffic light???

Another alternative means is to calibrate your speed and distance to the flashing “don’t walk” pedestrian signals that eventually stop flashing prior to the light change; this can serve as an early warning detection system when approaching these camera monitored traffic areas.

Know you regular road on a frequent basis and tell your fellow drivers if you spot any new ones.  Word of mouth always helps.

I found this incredible site called red light camera list that actually has an app that can be layered onto your existing Google Maps app on spart phones and navigation systems, and they also offer a FREE list of every camera location for every state and county (NYS is on the left column)

Here is the current list of all the cameras for NYC


Is the system working?

Yes and no.  I have spoken to dozens of motorists, and even though they are a conflict of interest to the cause, they have admitted to seeing the system do nothing more than cause panic and misjudgment by many drivers.  Not every driver is a safe driver.  That is a fact.  So, instead of slowing down to a yellow signal, they slam on the brakes just to avoid another bill in their lives, but instead get rear-ended. A fail to the system.  Keep in mind, it is not a moving violation, just a ticket ($$$$)

When asking non-drivers or pedestrians, they claim that it has improved safety in some areas, but they have generally claimed that you can still be a moving target at many intersections that do not have the cameras installed, which is another fail to the system.

The behavior pattern that is now culminating on the road is that drivers are adjusting their speed patterns based on the placement of these cameras, so some drivers are actually going faster when the light is green to avoid being near these targeted intersections to avoid the camera trap.  When they drive on their streets regularly, they already know and are well versed with where these cameras are, so they still drive like maniacs.  In this case, the system fails again and people still get hit by cars. There will always be drivers that are in a hurry or are running late.  It is a part of that basic principle called human nature.

It appears as though the only advantage of this system is profit, and it is working extremely well with the city with more and more of these little critters popping up everywhere.  If they eventually put a camera on every intersection in the city, there will still be accidents, but the only thing drivers can decipher out of all this madness is just another reason the city makes life much harder with the rise in the cost of living, and the only outcome of that phenom is a condition called road rage.

Face it – the city doesn’t want drivers!

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