Roadside cameras are about money, not safety

Dubi Ben-Gedalyahu

Junction cameras mainly catch vehicles going through on green, just too fast -but are they lucrative!

Following public pressure, last week the police deigned to publish figures on the reports from its network of automatic cameras. The figure that stood out was the dizzying financial success of the traffic light cameras, or, to be more precise, the speeding reports that these cameras produced. It turns out that, on the whole, Israeli drivers try to avoid crossing a junction on red, and only 8.4% of the reports issued since March 2102 were for going through red lights. But these cameras worked overtime at catching drivers who crossed a junction on green, but at a speed over the limit. No fewer than 55% of the reports from the entire network of cameras more than 40,000 were for speeding through junctions.

There are several reasons for this, the first being that, unlike regular speed cameras on the open road, which drivers learn to identify, speed cameras at junctions operate contrary to the driver's intuition. A driver travelling at a certain speed who sees at green light at a junction, carries on at that speed. This is even more true in the small hours of the morning, when not only is it almost impossible to discern the cameras at the junction, but the roads are also completely free of traffic.

But if anyone thinks that this is fair play, and that it makes road junctions safer, I have news for them. An extensive study carried out in late 2012 in New Jersey, where road junction cameras have been widely adopted, found that drivers adapt to the cameras in the worst possible way. Since the cameras were deployed, there has been a 20% rise in rear-end collisions at junctions where cameras have been installed, and the seriousness of such accidents has also worsened substantially.

What happened was that drivers spotted the cameras late, and braked sharply before the green or amber light, reducing speed much more than was necessary. American drivers however are not suckers, and within a short time a class action was filed in the name of some 500,000 drivers who received reports from junction cameras. The lawsuit was successful, and the drivers received monetary compensation.

Here, by contrast, the reports pile up and the regulator only gets a larger appetite. Even though only a small fraction of the reports were issued to hooligan drivers who run red lights, the police decided to change the original mix of the cameras and to install two thirds of them at junctions and only the remaining third on the open road. In other words, to put them where the big money is.

The local authorities too want a slice of the cake. A legislative initiative is currently being promoted that would allow the local authorities to use lane control cameras and other video monitoring equipment in the future to issue reports to drivers at junctions. The revenue from the fines will flow to the municipalities just like parking fines.

This, incidentally, represents the adoption of the American method whereby municipalities and local authorities finance from their own budgets the deployment of speed and traffic monitoring devices, and in return receive the revenue from fines. In short, milking drivers provides an excellent solution for covering the waste and current deficits of the municipalities. And what about road safety? Come on, grow up.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on April 28, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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