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Armey takes on traffic-surveillance cameras
Lawmaker says cities have shortened yellow lights to raise revenue



Editor's note: In collaboration with the hard-hitting Washington, D.C.,
newsweekly Human Events, WorldNetDaily brings you this special report every
Monday. Readers can subscribe to Human Events through WND's online store.
By Joseph A. D'Agostino
© 2001 Human Events

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, is crusading against the red-light
cameras that have sprouted up at intersections around the country, saying
that they violate constitutional principles and that localities have
deliberately shortened yellow-light intervals in order to raise revenue.

Traffic will be safer, said Armey, when local governments increase yellow
intervals and stop trying to trap motorists in petty red-light violations.

"We are responsible for protecting people's constitutional rights," Armey
told Human Events. "We believe that this is an intrusion against people's
constitutional rights."

"We have the state legislature in New Jersey that agrees with us," said
Armey, "and we have the Supreme Court in Alaska that agrees with us. We ought
to hold some hearings on this."

No committee has yet committed to holding hearings on Armey's proposal.

"There's been an evolution of the federal standards and recommendations that
has moved us away from the time-honored and effective business of using the
length of the yellow light to ensure safety at intersections," Armey said.
"We believe that they have consciously done just the opposite of good
yellow-light policy to increase the stream of revenue."

"They have not demonstrated any improvement in public well-being because of
these cameras," Armey added.

The House Republican leader said he does not want to use federal regulations
to micromanage states and localities in their use of cameras for issuing
traffic citations. "I am against that on principle," he said.

Instead, Armey opposes traffic cameras of any kind, period, as a matter of
constitutional principle.

"I have taken the same position with regard to speeding cameras," he said.
"The problem with electronic surveillance is that you are denied your right
to face your accuser and you are assumed to be guilty until you have proved
yourself to be innocent. In fact, you are assumed to be there. A police
officer has immediate identification of who's driving the car."

Armey warned that the United States could end up like England.

"I would say that I could leave my residence in London, travel all around
town and make three or four stops, and there would be a record of everywhere
I went. The surveillance there is that thorough," he said.

Said Armey spokesman Richard Diamond, "The British government has proposed
increasing the number of tickets issued by cameras from 550,000 to 10 million
a year." At present, no American municipality is planning to use traffic
cameras for anything other than red-light running and speeding.

A report prepared by Armey's office says, "Today's formula for calculating
yellow times yields yellow times that can in some cases be about 30 percent
shorter than the older formula." Armey's office collected traffic studies
from around the country and found that when the yellow-light time increased,
red-light running decreased. In Mesa, Ariz., for example, the number of
vehicles entering an intersection on red dropped by 73 percent; in Georgia,
by 75 percent; at sites in Virginia and Maryland, 77 percent or more,
including two sites where researchers reported that the red-light running
problem was "virtually eliminated."

But lengthening yellow times does not raise revenue.

Fifty cities in 10 states now use red-light cameras. In 18 months, San
Diego's 19 cameras have raked in $30 million. West Hollywood, Calif., earns
$4.9 million annually from its cameras. New York City's 15 cameras made $5.4
million in their first year.

San Diego's red-light camera ticketing program suffered a setback this month
after the city discovered a glitch that meant some motorists may have been
ticketed unjustly. After a lawsuit was filed in February, discovery turned up
a "Potential Intersection Worksheet" prepared for the city when it was
deciding where to install red-light cameras. Five of the potential sites were
rejected because "long yellow, vio [violator] volume not there." Other noted
reasons for rejections included "long yellow phase" and "timing clears out

A copy of an agreement between Mesa and Lockheed Martin, the company with
which the city contracted to provide its red-light cameras, prohibited the
city from lengthening yellow times at intersections with Lockheed cameras.
The contract gave Lockheed a cut of every ticket issued by its cameras.

Last year, a red-light camera in Washington, D.C., was turned off after the
local police department admitted that the intersection where it was installed
was confusing, but not until after over $1 million was raised, most of which
will not be refunded.

Shortening of yellow times has not happened around the country through
coincidence, Armey's report says. The Institute of Transportation Engineers
(ITE) produces a traffic management handbook that is widely used by local
governments. The 1985 handbook stated, "When the percent of vehicles that are
last through the intersection which enter on red exceeds that which is
locally acceptable (many agencies use a value of 1 to 3 percent), the yellow
interval should be lengthened until the percentage conforms to local
standards." By 1994, the "1 to 3 percent" recommendation was edited out, and
a suggestion that yellow-light intervals might actually be "shortened" was
inserted. Now the ITE handbook says: "When the percentage of vehicles that
enter on a red indication exceeds that which is locally acceptable, the
yellow change interval may be lengthened (or shortened) until the percentage
conforms to local standards, or enforcement can be used instead."

In 1976, ITE found that the average intersection where traffic moved at
approximately 35 mph required 4.64 seconds of time for traffic to clear the
intersection once the signal changed from green to yellow. The 1999 ITE
formula recommends 3.8 seconds of yellow light time.

Diamond said that studies purporting to show that red-light cameras reduce
accidents are flawed.

"They don't even track changes in yellow-light times to see if that is what
causes reductions in accidents," he said.

The most comprehensive study produced on the effect of red-light cameras was
done by the Australian Road Research Board, which concluded in 1995 after ten
years of monitoring intersections, "This study suggests that the installation
of the RLC [red-light camera] at these sites did not provide any reduction in
accidents, rather there have been increases in rear end and adjacent
approaches accidents."

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