Posted by: Rob | March 24, 2009

Mississippi leads the civilized (driving) world…….wait. What?

That’s right friends and neighbours.  A Slashdot article led me to a story about how Mississippi state legislators have voted to outlaw the use of nefarious red light cameras at intersections.

Mississippi’s capital city will stop issuing tickets and collecting fines when automatic cameras snap pictures of vehicles running red lights, city attorney Sarah O’Reilly Evans says.

The change in Jackson is being made immediately, even though a new state law sets an Oct. 1 deadline for the cameras to be taken down in the only two cities already using them – Jackson and Columbus.

“We were interested in them for safety,” Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton said Monday. “The only person that’s going to get in trouble or get a ticket is the person who runs a red light.”

Several lawmakers complained the cameras were an invasion of privacy and their constituents thought they had been unfairly ticketed.

J. Thomas Ramsey is a lobbyist who represents RedSpeed Mississippi, the private company that has a contract to install red-light cameras in Natchez. Ramsey said the company already has spent money for the process of installation, including hiring engineers to evaluate traffic patterns.

“These cameras save lives. And lives will be sacrificed for populist politics,” Ramsey said.

The bill passed the House 117-3 on Feb. 11. It passed the Senate 42-9 on March 4.

I find this news interesting in view of the fact that the city of Fort Saskatchewan is champing at the bit to activate their new red light cameras which have been held up waiting on an agreement with the province to get violating vehicle owner information.

The cameras were installed last week at the Highways 15 and 21 intersection as well as the intersection of Highway 15 and 101st Street.

[The city’s fire chief and director of protective services Brian Parker]’s more concerned about finalizing an agreement with the province’s registry department.

Because Alberta Registries handles all information required of the province’s registered vehicle owners, the city must enter into an agreement with the provincial department for use of that information, Parker said.

“We can’t go ahead until we get that agreement in place,” he explained.

City council approved the $200,000 cost of the cameras in this year’s budget.

Parker estimates the cameras will generate $20,000 in revenue more than it cost during their first year of operation, but he said he would feel just fine if they generated no money at all.

“If we get nothing that means people are not going through red lights and that’s a good sign,” said Parker.

The cameras are intended to slow drivers down and reduce the number of collisions.

“It’s not about the revenue. All we’re trying to do is change the attitudes of the driver,” Parker said.

Well, the commenters at Slashdot were having a field day with the post there, but I found some of the other links to be of interest as they related to the conflicts of interest that abound with the use of red light cameras in so-called traffic enforcement.  Naturally, there is the revenue angle, despite what the Fort’s Mr. Parker says.  The temptation, apparently, is there to reduce yellow light cycle times and “force” more drivers to appear to be running red lights.

And the safety angle?  Forget it.  I know you can use stats to prove pretty much any point you might want to make, but this item I found to be fairly interesting.  There are five studies quoted, but the conclusions from a traffic study done in Ontario and published in December 2003 would be of more interest and relevance to Canadian readers:

5) Evaluation of the Red-Light-Camera-Enforcement Pilot Project
Ontario Ministry of Transportation
December 2003

This report from Ontario, Canada’s Ministry of Transportation’s concluded that jurisdictions using photo enforcement experienced an overall increase in property damage and fatal and injury rear-end collisions. The report also concludes that there was an overall reduction in serious accidents and angle collisions. However, a closer look at the data found in this government-sponsored report show that intersections monitored by cameras experienced, overall, a 2 percent increase in fatal and injury collisions compared to a decrease of 12.7 percent in the camera-free intersections that were used as a control group (page 21).

In fact, the non-camera intersections fared better than the camera intersections in every accident category.

Quoted from the study:

“Exhibit 2 indicates the red light running treatments have:

* Contributed to a 4.9 per cent increase in fatal and injury rear-end collisions; and
* Contributed to a 49.9 per cent increase in property damage only rear-end collisions.

The rear-end collision results are similar to findings in other red light camera studies.”

If you are so inclined, you can actually download the entire report.

The website even issues a “prove it” challenge and puts money up for any jurisdiction using red light cameras to prove that said cameras are not there just for the revenue.

The National Motorists Association and its members know that engineering solutions are the real way to prevent red-light violations and accidents at problematic intersections.

In fact, we are willing to wager $10,000 to prove that engineering will work better than ticket cameras.

The revenue from ticket cameras serves as a reward to cities that fail to make motorists safer through proper signal timing, better signal design, and improved intersections. This is an engineering problem, not an enforcement issue.

Today we say to the communities that employ ticket cameras, “Let’s put traffic engineering solutions to the test.”

Now, being an engineer myself, I’m always on board for an elegant engineering solution versus the ham handed tactics deployed by municipal legislators and their civil service minions, none of whom may have the skills, knowledge or experience to successfully address perceived problems rather than making them worse.

Time will tell, I guess, what we find happens here in Fort Saskatchewan.


  1. i’m a bit vexed on this – but in general, prefer less regulation and intrusion in my life.

    of interest to me? the germans in particular have been using cameras for issuance of speeding tickets. and are pretty much unabashedly doing it for revenue… perhaps it would be less offensive if they just said “we want income with no effort”.

  2. I’ve always found red light and speeding cameras to be a bit Big Brother-ish. Don’t you think?

  3. Reminds me of my Kansas aunt cautioning me to slow down through the little towns, because they made their “water money” with speeding tickets. IIRC, many of them had impossible slow speed limits, too.

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