You're on Film; Red-Light Cameras

The Economist

About one in five Americans lives in one of the roughly 700 counties or cities that have signed contracts with private firms to install street cameras to record drivers who speed or run a red light. In theory, those systems sound like a good idea. Knowing they can be filmed, drivers might behave better. The vendors say that their cameras are one reason why traffic deaths have been falling.

On the other hand, drivers also sometimes overcompensate by accelerating when the light turns yellow, or slamming on the brakes so that the car behind goes into them. Critics therefore say that the evidence is mixed, and that traffic deaths have fallen for other reasons, such as safer cars and fewer miles driven.

But aside from that debate, many drivers object to getting a big fine for that most American of peccadillos, the so-called "rolling stop" (not actually a stop at all) when turning right on a red light.  A nationwide backlash is occurring, as residents vote the cameras out in referendums and cities try to cancel their contracts with vendors.

Phineas Baxandall at the US Public Interest Research Group, a non-partisan advocacy, says the trend toward privatising the enforcement of traffic laws poses inherent conflicts of interest.