Red light camera update

Ever since various municipalities began the widespread deployment of red light cameras at trafffic intersections in the 1990s, government officials in those jurisdictions have claimed the use of the cameras to catch alleged scofflaws and issue them tickets with heavy fines attached, had nothing to do with raising revenues. Whenever criticized for the privacy-invasive or other constitutional infirmities with such techniques, government advocates of the cameras invariably would declare that the cameras were put in place and maintained solely for safety purposes. Yeah, sure.

Now, if anyone still doubts that local governments use red light cameras to raise revenue, all they have to do is read that a number of jurisdictions, including Gwinnett County in suburban Atlanta, Georgia, are curtailing their deployment of the devices because — are you ready for this — they “no longer pay for themselves.” In other words, the number of tickets and fines generated by the red light cameras is insufficient to justify their continued deployment, so governments are discontinuing their use. One local elected official in Lilburn, Georgia, was quite frank about the matter, stating for the newspaper that, “when you build your budget around those sources of revenue [red light cameras], it’s difficult.”

As a long-time opponent of red light cameras, I am delighted some jurisdictions are moving away from such techniques for generating income. It’s also nice to see that at least some government officials are now being honest about why they used the cameras; better late than never, I suppose.

You may submit comments on the Barr Code all weekend but they will not be posted until Monday morning.

14 comments Add your comment


March 20th, 2009
10:45 am

You said it–glad the real story is out in the open. And what a victory–however small–for the curbing of big brother. Amen!


March 20th, 2009
11:18 am

One thing you failed to mention is the fact that the State required all camera intersections to add one second to the yellow light timing.

So what is it really — the cameras have done their job … or were the lights set for too little yellow time ???

Jack Franklin

March 20th, 2009
12:40 pm

How would we have ever figured this red light camera thing out without Barr?


March 20th, 2009
12:54 pm

The red light camaras did their job too well, they stopped the idiots in this city from running red lights at every intersection they get to. When they come down, people will go right back to their bad behavior which is demonstrated at every light that doesn’t have a camara.

A better solution would be to upgrade the traffic light system in this state to synchronize the lights; perhaps then people would not run so many of them. I understand the frustration of having to stop at every intersection because the damn lights are out of synch with each other.


March 20th, 2009
1:09 pm

Now if we can get rid of profiling based on skin tone or accent I will believe that progress is being made. Some of the abuses of our 4th amendment rights is apalling. We have become more like despotic 3rd world countries than I would have ever believed. And the scary thing is that so called “conservatives” are marching in lockstep with the government on these abuses.


March 20th, 2009
1:10 pm

This may be the first time I have ever agreed with Bob Barr, but a big AMEN. If local officials want to raise money from people who run or misjudge red lights, just be honest about it. If it was not about money, then why were the fines set to be higher than the cost of the service?


March 20th, 2009
2:23 pm


Was the collecting jurisdiction ever required to share the generated revenue with the State (who paid for a MAJOR portion of the signal cost) or with the Developer (who may have been required to contribute a significant amount towards the installation cost as part of them being allowed ingress/egress rights) or was the collecting jurisdiction allowed to keep all revenue.


March 20th, 2009
3:22 pm

I don’t think that red light cameras should be used for raising revenue. They should be used solely as a prevention tool — the prevention of injuries and death in traffic accidents at intersections.

Did you know that the areas without red light cameras are also the areas that experience the most preventable traffic fatalities? It’s true!

Road Scholar

March 20th, 2009
3:41 pm

So what was the difference in accident rates with/without the red light cameras? That is the measure of effectiveness we should be examining and discussing!


March 20th, 2009
4:21 pm

Atlanta has a long, proud history of five cars going through the red during every cycle, especially on left turn signals. The red light camera conspiracy screwed that up. Shameful.

Seriously, I hate the darn things. I slam on my brakes reflexively now the second the light turns yellow, when often the smarter thing to do would be slip on through.

R. Lamar Smith, CPA

March 20th, 2009
4:46 pm

I read that the one second that the state required to be added to the yellow cut down the number of tickets so that it wasn’t profitable anymore. It sounds like the timing was set to generate revenue. It’s clear that this kind of power is dangerous in the hands of government and even moreso in the hands of private companies who can use the short yellow to get more money.


March 20th, 2009
6:36 pm

The studies on whether they actually help reduce accidents have been mixed. They generally do reduce the number of accidents within the intersection, but, at the same time, the number of rear end wrecks from people slamming on the brakes to stop usually increases dramatically, so it’ s a push.

It is nice to see the truth come out. I think that was the gist of Barr’s column-not about whether or not the cameras were wrong, just about the lies that were told as the cameras were put in.


March 20th, 2009
7:02 pm

It only a matter of time before the leeches in government latch onto some other form of technology to use to extort our money; excuse me, I mean to protect us for our own safety. How about trying to ticket speeders using the cameras that line the highway, or the soon to be required GPS units in autos for the pay-by-the-mile tax to replace the gas tax, or the triangulation and tracking capability that cellphones already have. Oh and yes, I feel so much safer knowing that my involuntary use of a seat belt or else a fine is being done for my own safety too. Parasites.


March 20th, 2009
7:05 pm

What this says is that the cameras worked. The threat of a ticket caused drivers to slow down and exercise more caution and restraint. This, I think, is what Atlanta traffic desperately needs more of. Nowhere else in the world where I have driven have I felt the overwhelming hurry-hurry urgency that I feel here. I know Atlanta has huge ego problems but it doesn’t need to be on the roads. The cameras helped that. But the second thing it showed was that town and cities ARE looking at these things as revenue sources and the only reason they don’t like them is that they were inconsistent or just not producing at all.

THAT is just baloney logic. The cities and towns need to stop looking at every little thing in terms of revenue. Sometimes you need to do things because they need to be done, not just because they bring in a dollar. It’s not all about the money. And yet the cities and towns are standing up and saying that is literally all they care about. Lives, safety, slowing down traffic, improving quality of life, hah! Revenue. Period.

The truth is, there are a lot more towns in this state than there need to be, and a lot more counties too. There needs to be wholesale local government consolidation across the state which would cut costs of operating government simply by putting a lot of these bureaucrats out of work.