traffic light

Green Light, Green Light, Red Light! (Camera)

So, here we are, all grown up, gone are the days of playing Red Light/Green Light with friends, and now into the real world of traffic lights that it so effectively prepared us for.

But, as with anything, there are people who don't follow the rules of the game as closely as they should. Enter red-light cameras - now new and improved with higher fines and more locations! Oh. Wait. Is that new and improved?

There has, of course, been controversy about this since the beginning, and now with the fine being raised from $180 to $500, as you can imagine, folks are all a twitter again.

I can see both sides of this. On one hand, if you do something illegal (especially if it's illegal for a darn good reason) then you have to be willing to accept the consequences, and frankly, in this case, you're lucky if your consequence is just a ticket, as opposed to an accident that results in injury or even death. But, herein lies the problem - the person who has to deal with the consequences is not necessarily the person who broke the law.

The ticket is sent to the registered owner of the vehicle, which is the problem with all photo-based traffic tickets. So, for example, I own a car, many of my friends do not (it's Toronto after all...), which means I will often lend my car to friends. I imagine this kind of arrangement is pretty common in a city like Toronto. But, if someone goes through a red light, I am legally responsible. I'm not saying my friends would try to rip me off, I'm just saying that the person who ran the red probably won't know they did it. Unlike speeding where it's hard not to know what you're doing, people don't run red lights on purpose (well, not generally anyway), so they won't know about it. Does this mean that I'm going to have to start keeping a log of who is driving my car when?

The stats seem to say that red light cameras decrease fatalities (possibly while increasing property damage accidents, but really, if we have to choose between dead people or wrecked cars, I'd vote for wrecked cars any day). On March 18, 2008, The Toronto Star reported that "the Toronto [red light camera] experience showed a 26.2 per cent drop in "angle" or T-bone crashes, while rear-enders were up 10.1 per cent." Although there has been an increase in rear-end collisions Glenn De Baeremaeker, the public works committee chairperson, pointed out to the star that "The T-bone accidents have gone down, those are the most dangerous."

Based on that my gut says that probably red-light cameras are a good idea. What I'm not so clear on is how increasing the fine is going to provide any kind of benefit at all. Is the idea that there are people out there who figure they can afford $180 so they're gonna run the red, but once it's $500 then they can't afford it anymore so they'll stop? Seems like a pretty weak argument to me, and makes it pretty easy to see why there are lots of cries of 'cash grab' being heard around the city today. But what about the argument that more vigilance will cost more money?

The city tells us that the extra money is required to implement additional cameras and monitoring. Currently there are 10 cameras being rotated among 38 intersections (listed here). The plan is to increase that to 98 cameras between 169 intersections by the end of 2009, which will, of course, cost money. That said, Gary Welsh, Toronto's General Manager of Transportation Services, said on the last page of a memo to the Public Works and Infrastructure committee that "Over the next five years, the estimated project revenues exceed costs by approximately $4,401,100.00." - so, we're talking a reasonable chunk more than just cost recovery here.

I dunno. What do you think? Are they a good idea? Does raising fees make sense, or is it just a cash grab? Is it maybe okay for it to be a cash grab, since the city's gotta get revenue from somewhere? I'm really curious to know what folks are thinking about this issue.

Photo from the blogTO flickr pool by Xenon

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