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Red light camera initiative moves forward despite backlash

Red Light Camera traffic intersection
Mel Evans/AP
/
AP
DOT's red-light safety program will construct 10 cameras at Honolulu intersections with a history of crashes related to running red-lights.

There will be 10 red light cameras installed at various Honolulu intersections by March as a part of the state Department of Transportation's red light safety program.

The cameras are connected to censors in the road. If drivers pass the stop line while the light is red, the system will capture an image of the vehicle's license plate, and the vehicle owner is fined.

A red light camera at Palama St. and Vineyard Blvd. is already issuing citations. A second camera at Liliha St. and Vineyard Blvd. will start issuing tickets Dec. 9.

Citations are $97 for the first offense, and can go up to $200 for additional red light runnings.

DOT reported more than 200 warnings issued from the Palama St. intersection between from the beginning of October to mid-November.

Ed Sniffen, the DOT Deputy Director of Highways, said there was an average of 11 red light runnings per day prior to the cameras.

Sniffen explains, "If you cross that line one tenth of a second after that light turns red, you’ll be fined."

Some say this is too fast. Engineer Brian Ceccarelli is the owner of Talus Software based in North Carolina and operates the website “Red Light Robber.”

"Policemen would never give these people a ticket because you can't visually tell. So technically these people are running red lights, but only if you have the reflexes of a computer can you tell," explained Ceccarelli.

Ceccarelli feels that most intersections’ yellow lights are too short, and forces drivers to run a red light.

"The only way you can never run a red light is that you know exactly where that comfortable stopping point is — 300 feet. The problem is, is that you and I and every driver on the road do not know exactly where 300 feet is on the intersection," said Ceccarelli.

He said yellow lights need to stay on for 4.8 seconds on a road with a speed limit of 25 mph, and that Hawaiʻi yellow lights run between three to four seconds.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, cameras have reduced fatal red-light crashes by 21% in the U.S.

Vice President of Research at IIHS Jessica Cicchino stated, "Well publicized camera programs discourage would-be violators from taking the odds that they’re going to get caught because it increases their thought that they might get caught if they run a red light."

She admits red light cameras can cause drivers to slam their brakes and increase rear-end crashes, but said the cameras work best for preventing fatalities.

"Things like head-on crashes and side-impact crashes — those are the ones that are the most serious. So sometimes you do see a tradeoff between some of the lower severity crashes going up and preventing some of those higher severity crashes," Cicchino said.

Engineer Ceccarelli disagrees. He believes 90% of red-light runnings are caused by bad traffic engineering, so it’s unfair to financially punish the drivers.

He suggests increasing what’s called an all-red clearance interval to make roads safer.

"There’s a period of time where all directions see red. Everybody sees red to allow any late arriving traffic to clear the intersection," Ceccarelli explained. "You increase it by even half a second of all red it will decrease crashes by 50%."

Opponents of red light cameras say the technology is unconstitutional because the system charges the offender with criminal and civil law without a standing party. They argue that if no one is injured and the vehicle owner is issued a citation from a camera, you cannot defend against anyone in court, and it is therefore unconstitutional.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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