Red-Light Cameras - Engineering Malpractice

Red-light camera programs are a charlatan fraud scheme profiting from bad physics. The cameras exploit the pseudo-science traffic engineers use to miscalculate the duration of the yellow light. The miscalculation always shorts the yellow light. The shortness is just a matter of degree. The miscalculation creates systematic unavoidable red-light running and crashes. The miscalculation exists at every signalized intersection because the engineer is following a national standard of care. When you hear a traffic engineer justifying his yellow lights by saying "We just follow the ITE practice", know that he just confessed to making everyone run red lights. The Institute of Transportation Engineers' practice is the problem. The ITE practice is indeed the standard of care, but it is a standard of care that departs from that required under engineering practice law.

Believe it or not, you have experienced bad physics while driving. The engineering defect called the dilemma zone is the outcome of bad physics. A dilemma zone is a segment of road upstream from the intersection where if you are in it when the light turns yellow, you neither have the distance to comfortably stop nor the time to reach the intersection before the light turns red. You react to a dilemma zone by not knowing whether stopping or going would be appropriate, or by choosing to beat the light or slam on the brakes. Sometimes there is no stop-or-go solution. You must run a red light no matter what you do. Over 90% of red-light camera tickets result from dilemma zones.

Where the math errors most oppose the physics of traffic motion, the most red-light running and crashes occur. For turning traffic and for commercial vehicles, the math errors are at their worst. The math can make drivers enter the intersection long (~ 5 seconds) after the light turns red. These two groups experience the most T-bone crashes. Learn math and physics.

Where does the law meet bad physics?     Making math mistakes in public engineering works is unlawful.    Engineers who miscalculate the yellow light duration violate the State's Engineering Practice Act. Because these engineers are mishandling basic physics, they lack the education required by the State's engineering license. The lack of education triggers the incompetence clause.

There is a second level of engineering malpractice. The unlicensed practice of engineering. This is done by the red-light camera firms. A "red-light camera installation plan" is a complex document that includes both professional engineering and professional land surveying elements. A plan cannot be executed unless the plan is first certified. A plan is "certified" when it has been signed and sealed by a State licensed professional engineer who oversaw the project. In all States, a "P.E." must take personal responsibility for the contents of the plan by certifying the plan. Without certification, there can be no installation. And of course, there can be no operation of the cameras without the cameras first being installed. Certification precludes operation. It appears that the unlicensed practice of engineering is the norm for red-light camera firms.  

What does a  typical "red-light violator" really look like in the eyes of a red-light camera firm?  This  video makes a mockery of your assumptions about red-light runners. Red-light runners are not the reckless scofflaws we have imagined. Instead, they are safe innocent drivers like you and me who unfortunately happen to be in a dilemma zone when the light turns yellow. Each day millions of drivers find themselves in such a predicament. They enter the intersection a fraction of a second into the red, incursions perceivable by computer only, not by driver or policeman. These drivers are whom red-light camera firms target. Because showing multitudes of such petty clips to a city council would sour its interest, the firms present only the rare video clips of cross-street T-bone crashes. Those T-bone clips are dramatic. Those clips instill fear. Those clips scream out to the council members to take action.  Yet only 1 out of 100,000 clips are such T-bones.  The crimes committed by the red-light camera firms here are false advertising and false pretense.    Safety is the false pretense.   Cameras have nothing to do with safety.

When all is said, we see classic charlatanism. The red-light camera never solves the problem because it applies treatments to the driver. Drivers are not the ones with ailments; traffic engineers are. The cure is physics lessons. The camera is snake oil--a nostrum. The red-light camera firm is the old-time medicine show operator coming to town, selling oil, and leaving. And for millions of dollars of new revenue, the city council gladly becomes a shill.

Engineering malpractice is the heart of the red-light camera industry.   Sitting on top of the engineering errors are the due process issues.   It is these due process issues that first confront us.   I am sure that you know this issue:   "You are guilty until you blame someone else."   Whatever happened to "you are innocent until proven guilty?"    There is also the blatant due process issue that the poor people of Pueblo Colorado put up with.  Pueblo's city ordinance actually says, "The Court does not have to adhere to the rules of evidence."   There are dozens of egregious due process issues that, as Professor Adam McLeod of Faulkner University says, would make King George III blush.   I won't get into them here.   I do leave you with a Blame Society skit which will put you in the due process mood.   Blame Society, a Wisconsin comedy company, made a video telling the story of Cary, North Carolina's red-light camera program.   The names have been changed to protect the guilty.   The story is all true.  

Guest Writer, 

Brian Ceccarelli, PE

Talus Software, PLLC