Letters to the Editor

Red lights and rear-end collisions: It's about money | Federal Way letters

Let me preface this letter by stating I have no personal axe to grind. I have never received a red light infraction, either by photo cop or by a police officer.

In the July 28 article "Cameras catch a green light," reporter Jacinda Howard writes that "despite public complaints, records show rear-end collisions at the intersections (with the red light cameras) have not dramatically increased since photo enforcement began."

The red light revenue generators were installed in 2008. The three years before, according to the article, these intersections had a total of 270 collisions and 107 were rear-end collisions. That averages to 90 collisions per year with 35.67 being rear-end collisions.

The year after the red light revenue generators were installed, 2009 had 101 total collisions with 41 being rear-end collisions. That is an increase of 12 percent in total collisions and 15 percent in rear-end collisions.

Comparing the year before the red light revenue generator's were installed 2007 totals (73 collisions with 29 being rear-end collisions) with the year after 2009 total listed above, the increase is 38 percent in total collisions and 41 percent in rear-end collisions.

This should not surprise anyone. The USDOT funded a North Carolina Urban Transit Institute study published in July 2004 on red light cameras over 57 months. Some of their study conclusions:

• The results do not support the view that red light cameras reduce crashes. Instead, we find that RLCs are associated with higher levels of many types and severity categories of crashes.

• The model is estimating that, had an RLC not been placed at a particular intersection, we may have seen a 42 percent decrease in the accident rate at that intersection.

• In many ways, the evidence points toward the installation of RLCs as a detriment to safety.

• The results do not support the conventional wisdom expressed in recent literature and popular press that red light cameras reduce accidents...Our findings are more pessimistic, finding no change in angle accidents and large increases in rear-end crashes and many other types of crashes relative to other intersections.

• The Federal Highway Administration stated in April 2005 that right angle (t-bone) collisions decrease 24.6 percent and right angle injuries decrease 15.7 percent, but rear-end collisions increase 14.9 percent and rear-end injuries increase 24 percent at red light camera intersections.

In 2003, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation evaluation of red light cameras concluded red light cameras contributed to a 4.9 percent increase in injury rear-end collisions and a 49 percent increase in property damage only rear-end collisions.

In 2007, the Virginia Transportation Research Council studied red light camera crashes in Virginia and concluded: “After cameras were installed, rear-end crashes increased for the entire six-jurisdiction study area… After controlling for time and traffic volume at each intersection, rear-end crash rates increased by an average of 27 percent for the entire study area" and "After cameras were installed, total crashes increased.”

Red light cameras are nothing new. Melbourne, Australia, installed them in 1984 in 41 intersections. The Australian Road Research Board in 1995 studied the accident rates at them and stated: “The results of this study suggest that the installation of the RLC at these sites did not provide any reduction in accidents, rather there has been increases in rear end and adjacent approaches accidents on a before and after basis and also by comparison with the changes in accidents at intersection signals.”

Federal Way's yellow light time is 4.0 seconds with a one second all red time (all the lights are red before the next green light occurs). In autumn 2008, Chillicothe, Ohio, had an in-depth study on red light infractions. They showed at a 40 mph intersection that increasing the yellow light time from varying between 3.3-3.8 seconds to 4.9 seconds decreased red light infractions by 97 percent. When a light turns yellow, motorists have a split second to decide to stop or accelerate, the "dilemma zone." Some of study's conclusions included:

• All red durations, when long enough, can be properly set to clear the intersection and avoid T-bone accidents.

• Dilemma zones prevent motorists from coming to a safe stop, increase the risk of rear-end collisions, force them to “run the red light,” or force them to exceed the posted speed limit.

• Yellow durations should be properly set to eliminate dilemma zones.

• Dilemma zones are the most likely reason for an increased rate of rear-end collisions at camera intersections.

• Properly timed traffic signals eliminate dilemma zones.

• Properly timed traffic signals nearly eliminate “Red Light Running."

• A relationship exists between the length of the yellow light and the number of tickets produced. A shorter yellow produces more tickets, and a longer yellow produces very few tickets.

• In summary, dilemma zone provide motorists the following three choices: slam on the brakes and risk a rear-end accident, continue through the intersection and be issued a “red light” infraction, or speed up and be issued a speeding infraction. These options are neither safe nor acceptable, and they carry a financial consequence for the motorist as well.

If this is truly about safety, I would propose that the city study at its camera intersections increasing the yellow light time to 4.9 seconds. It can also study increasing the all red time, perhaps to 2 seconds, especially at large intersections. Based on the above study, there is an excellent likelihood that red light infractions and rear end collisions would decrease by solely increasing the yellow light time. Considering that the S. 348th Street and Enchanted Parkway intersection is seven lanes wide north/south and nine lanes wide east/west, it probably would be prudent study increasing the all red time beyond one second.

Federal Way can, if it wants, study traffic light timing changes at its red light revenue generator intersections. I would hypothesize that safety would be greatly increased. You won't even need to wait for the study's results to know the answer. American Traffic Solutions will remove the cameras as totally unprofitable. Will the city do it? I won't hold my breath waiting.

Let's be honest about this. This is not about public safety. This is about money. That is why I referred to Federal Way's photo cop red light cameras for what they really are, Federal Way's red light revenue generators.

Mark Sebastian, Federal Way

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