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Baytown gets the red light camera blues

Oops.

A Texas motorist caught the city of Baytown using short yellows to trap motorists at a photo enforced intersection and of failing to protect sensitive private information. At a press conference yesterday, Byron Schirmbeck and his attorney, Randall Kallinen, announced that the city had agreed to drop a $75 ticket issued on April 12 for making a right-hand turn just 0.2 seconds after the light had turned red at the intersection of West Baker and Garth Roads. The yellow time at this intersection was set at just 3.1 seconds, even though state guidelines indicate that the yellow should have lasted no less than 4 seconds.

“I informed my councilman and he set up an interview with the police legal advisor and head of the red light camera program,” Schirmbeck told TheNewspaper. “They reluctantly admitted the amber times were too low but don’t admit any wrongdoing or have any explanation.”

Police reviewed the situation and ordered the yellow time at the intersection raised to 4.5 seconds on June 5. At least five other pending tickets will be dismissed, but Schirmbeck believes hundreds of other motorists may have been trapped by the same short yellow and deserve full refunds.

A small change in the length of the yellow warning period can make a significant difference. The vast majority of “violations” caught on camera happen after drivers misjudge the end of the yellow light by less than 0.25 seconds — literally the blink of an eye (view chart). According to¬†a report by the California State Auditor, nearly 80 percent of that state’s tickets were issued for violations that took place less than one second into the red. By adding an extra 1.4 seconds to the yellow, violations should plunge at the intersection of Baker and Garth by more than 80 percent.

Maybe someone ought to do a study on that. I must confess, I’m not clear on why a longer yellow light time makes a difference. I mean, maybe if you lived someplace where a yellow light was a signal to slow down and prepare to stop, as opposed to a signal that you’d better hustle if you want to make it through this light, it might reduce the number of red light violations. I might even want to live someplace like that, if I thought such a place existed. In the world we actually do inhabit, I admit to some lingering doubts. Be that as it may, I am curious about one thing: Is there an upper limit on what the yellow light duration should be. Everyone cites the “add one second” maxim to reduce red light violations, but why not add two seconds or three? At what point do you hit diminishing marginal returns, or do drivers start to adjust their behavior in a way that nullifies the positive effect? This says there’s a mathematical formula, which looks to me like there might be an effect that leads to increased speed at intersections, while this suggests there is no hard and fast rule, just a rule of thumb that 4.3 to 4.6 seconds is best.

Anyway. I agree that yellow light durations should be optimized. If that means red light camera revenues drop, that’s okay. I think they can have a positive effect on accidents, though that remains to be shown in Houston. I’m not convinced that lengthening yellow light times is sufficient, but it should be part of the fix. If it turns out that our drivers here respond well to that, fine; if not, the cameras will make money and there’ll be one less thing to complain about them. That’s a win-win.

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3 Comments

  1. peter says:

    This is an illegal crooked system that needs to be eradicated.

  2. Jimbo says:

    I just recieved one of these “NOTICE OF VIOLATION” scams.
    I am going to fight it as much as I can.
    I was told by the folks who collect the $$ that I would not be able to get my vehicle registered if I do not pay.

    This “notice” has NO COURT information.
    Why am I denied my right to du-process.
    Am I guilty or accused?
    I can request an administrative hearing, but that being run by them is set-up for me to lose.

    This is a grab of both money and control. Treating me as their f****n cattle.

    ALSO: They just announced that they can arrest or forcably remove anyone who does not leave when a Mandatory Evacuation is called.

    Our governments have been HIJACKED by criminals folks!

  3. Logan Herron says:

    The citizens of Baytown should start a Class Action law suit against the City of Baytown in regards to the red light tickets.