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Red light cameras are OK but why not extend yellow light time as well?

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POSTED March 22, 2009 5:21 a.m.
Red light cameras – the bane of born-again civil libertarians that often have a reawakening after getting a ticket thanks to such a device - are coming to Manteca.

The system Manteca is putting in at six intersections – Yosemite & Main, Center & Main, Louise & Main, Union & Northgate, Union & Lathrop, and Louise & Union – is unlike the one in place in Modesto as it will hold the red light longer for cross traffic than is programmed in the cycle when the system detects a red light  runner. The end result would be all directions would stay red while the red light runner races through and earns themselves a ticket in the mail in a week or so after their little act of civil disobedience.

It is what changed Police Chief Dave Bricker’s mind about red light cameras. The Manteca Police Department gets only a small slice of any ticket they issue with most of it going to the state and courts. As for red light camera tickets, the department receives zilch as their portion will go to the company “leasing them” to the city up until a certain amount of revenue is generated. After that, the city’s meager 10 percent or so stays with the city.

Bricker, who views traffic safety as a major concern and is having officers do what they can to lower the road carnage and close calls, initially viewed the red light camera system as a profit center for the company. That distaste – he didn’t become a peace officer to be a revenue generator – prompted him to withhold his support. Then along came the Nestor system.

That’s all fine with some readers but what about those yellow lights that seem to be awful short at more than a few intersections.

Good question.

You would think extending them by a mere second or two could ease some of the traffic safety concerns. Of course, over the course of a day you’ll add minutes to the overall time spent waiting for a signal light to change.

Police officers point out that drivers who constantly push yellow lights – those with enough time to stop safely before the light turns red – would simply continue to push it so nothing is improved.

There might, however, be a number of people out there who don’t break the speed limit. Traffic signal sequences are programmed with posted travel speeds taken into account. But what about those who don’t quite react fast enough who are at the cusp of the point-of-no-return when it comes to stopping or going for it?  They don’t impose a severe a danger as those who gun it to beat the light when it changes to yellow even though they have ample time to safely stop.

The red light runner photos – that must be previewed by a sworn-officer before they are issued – wouldn’t differentiate nor would traffic cop if he saw it happen in person.

That may be true but there needs to be a bit of consideration here. It’s man versus machine whether it is the driver and the reaction to the traffic light signal or the driver and the camera. If someone has a reaction time that is just a little slow, it would make sense for our elected leaders to direct staff to add a second tor two to all yellow lights in Manteca before the red light cameras go into operation.

If for no other reason it would be a gesture to re-enforce the fact the red light cameras in Manteca are about safety and not generating money for a private company.

Besides, what does the city have to lose? It won’t be getting its bread crumbs from the tickets until Netsor is made whole at a predetermined contractual level. Theoretically, if an additional yellow second wiped out 15 percent of the red light running tickets, it wouldn’t cost the city any more in lost revenue. The contract with Netsor, by the way, is written so the city never has to pay Nestor even if the revenues they expect to generate don’t materialize.

The red light cameras, if they do no other purpose, serve as a reminder to pay attention to driving and the changing road ahead or else face the prospect of getting a $370 plus surprise in the mail.
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