‘Case of the Week’ 7 (Stoa): Red Light Cameras

Important Disclaimer: We pretty much just throw these together over the weekend, and don’t put a lot of work into them. Case of the Week cases are not subject to the same editorial process and stringent quality standards as the COG 2011 sourcebook, and are frequently contributed by non-COG authors. You will likely find material and sources in these cases that would not appear in the sourcebook. Also the backups are not intended to be complete. That said, we hope these cases will be useful to you; enjoy!

About the Author: Daniel Sheahan has competed in Team Policy debate in NCFCA/Stoa for many years. In 2011, Daniel placed 15th Team Policy speaker and 14th Team Policy team at NITOC, the Stoa national championship.

1AC: Red Light Cameras

By Daniel Sheahan

(Pick your preference on Opening Quote/Definitions)

Inherency: Red Light Cameras

Red Light cameras are a technology used by state and local governments to detect red light violations.  According to:

Radar Detector App, a database of Red Light Camera’s nationwide “Red Light Camera’s” 2010 http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://radardetectorapp.com/redlightcameras/

“If you are interested in beating red light cameras, you must first know [H]ow red light cameras work. A high resolution camera is placed somewhere in the intersection. Often you can see these cameras mounted on poles along the side of the road. Other times they will be right on top or beside the light itself. The camera uses a sensor to detect cars passing through the intersection. If it detects the presence of a car in the intersection when the light turns red, it snaps a high quality photograph. Depending on the setup, it will take a front shot showing your face and license plate and also a rear shot showing the plate. The only way to detect the presence of these cameras and avoid them is to know where they are.”

 Unfortunately, the governments installing these cameras oftentimes don’t care about actually fighting red light violations and protecting their citizens – they care more about getting the fines from a red-light runner.  Many local governments have even come to guarantee an annual quota of revenue they expect to generate from the red light cameras, which leads to:

a. Cameras Used For Revenue

Phillips/Webster, a Washington Based Consumer Attorney Firm Specializing in Automobile Fines and AccidentsWashington Car Accident Lawyers: Federal Commission Reviews Red Light Cameras” July 1st, 2010, http://www.phillipswebster.com/blog/2010/07/washington-car-accident-lawyers-federal-commission-reviews-red-light-cameras/

Officials on the east coast, particularly in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas, where nearly 300 cameras already exist, have penciled millions into their budgets in expected traffic camera income this year.”

Although state and local governments are the ones installing these cameras, it’s oftentimes due to recommendations and research, perhaps even funding from the federal government, as shown in:

b. Federal Involvement

Office of the Majority Leader US House of Representatives “The Red Light Running Crises; Is It Intentional?” May, 2001 http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/reports/rlcreport.asp

“There’s a hidden tax being levied on motorists today. In theory, this tax is only levied on those who violate the law and put others in danger. But the reality is that the game has been rigged. And we’re all at risk. We are told to accept the idea that our laws should be administered by machines-not human beings-because it is a matter of safety. We must accept this expansion of government and this Orwellian threat to our privacy because cameras are the solution to the so-called red light running crisis. This is a federal issue, not just a local one. The federal government is promoting and offering funding for this “solution”, [red light cameras] because the safety benefits are supposed to be indisputable.”

c. Potential Gains

The federal government is taking an interest in promoting red light cameras because of the huge potential they have to be lifesavers.  When cameras are properly used, they help to reduce red light violations by up to 96%, and reduce the rate of fatal accidents by up to 24%, according to:

Insurance Institute For Highway Safety, an Independent Non-Profit Research Organization Dedicated To Vehicle and Highway Safety “Q&A Red Light Cameras” June, 2011 http://www.iihs.org/research/qanda/rlr.html

“A 2011 Institute study comparing large cities with red light cameras to those without found the devices reduced the fatal red light running crash rate by 24 percent and the rate of all types of fatal crashes at signalized intersections by 17 percent.6 Previous research has shown that cameras substantially reduce red light violations and crashes. Studies by the Institute and others have found reductions ranging from 40 to 96 percent after the introduction of cameras.”

Now that we understand what red light cameras are, and how they work, the affirmative will present the Goal of Effective Camera Program.  We can either continue with the status quo’s camera program, or vote affirmative and hopefully make it more effective.  The reason we believe a change is needed to make the program more effective is seen through the:

Harm. Gift Without Standards

The current system has the federal government promote the usage of red light cameras, and even hand out funding to local governments for these cameras.  However we are offering these gifts, without offering standards for the usage of the cameras, or a warning as to abuses of them.

Washington Examiner Quoting Representative Peter DeFazio Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Transportation “Congress Questions Red Light Cameras” June, 2010 http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/congress-questions-red-light-cameras#ixzz1Uf7IQMJR

“Committee chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., criticized the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for using lax standards in handing out federal grants to help fund red light camera programs. “If people are going to use federal funds to establish these programs, shouldn’t there be standards or guidelines?” DeFazio asked a panel of transportation officials attending the hearing. DeFazio suggested the federal government require proof that states attempted to increase road safety at problem intersections before considering red light cameras.”

When our government ignores standards for the usage of red light camera funds, we accept the abuses that the local governments can heap onto their citizens. This leads to the impacts:

Impact 1. Government Robbery

Local governments have been shortening yellow light times so that drivers will enter the intersection just as the light turns red.  This way they can collect the fines from the citizens and increase their revenue.

Washington Examiner “Congress Questions Red Light Cameras” June, 2010 http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/congress-questions-red-light-cameras#ixzz1Uf7IQMJR

“Federal lawmakers are questioning whether state and local governments are misusing their red light cameras to nab more drivers and boost their revenues. Transportation officials across the country have been illegally shortening yellow lights after ignoring calls to lengthen the warning signals, according to testimony at a hearing held by a subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday.”

Impact 2. Decreased Effectiveness of Cameras

Local governments are decreasing yellow light times so that unsuspecting motorists enter the intersection thinking it’s 4 seconds of yellow time… but it’s actually 3 seconds and they get fined.  Motorists try to fight this by stopping really quickly, and getting rear ended, thus increasing another type of automobile accident, and endangering the safety of US citizens in the interest of generating revenue.

The Atlantic (Newspaper) Jon Henke “Red Light Cameras, Yellow Light Times” April 2008 http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2008/04/red-light-cameras-yellow-light-times/3165/

“Six U.S. cities have been found guilty of shortening the amber cycles below what is allowed by law on intersections equipped with cameras meant to catch red-light runners. The local governments in question have ignored the safety benefit of increasing the yellow light time and decided to install red-light cameras, shorten the yellow light duration, and collect the profits instead. Indeed, the incentives involved for the government are very perverse. If you reduce the yellow light duration, you’ll get a bit more revenue. If you lengthen the yellow light duration, you’ll reduce accidents and save lives. So public officials choose to….reduce yellow light duration[insert comment here about the monopoly power of government] Shortening the yellow light below the minimum time is clearly wrong – i.e., illegal and unethical.”

As we have seen, the United States Federal Government currently stands in acceptance of citizen robbery and ineffective practices which endanger the lives of civilians.  For this reason we present our:

Plan: Reform Red Light Camera Program

As per the recommendations of Representative DeFazio, chairman of the house transportation committee and the Federal Highway Administration, the following mandates will be enacted:

Mandate 1: Condition Federal Funding (any state or local government receiving federal funding for red light cameras will be required to first examine possible engineering solutions such as longer yellow light times, and must follow the guidelines mentioned in section 8 of the Federal Highway Administration’s “National Agenda For Intersection Safety”)

Mandate 2: Promote Effective Camera Usage (as per the recommendations of the Federal Highway Administration in section 8 of the “National Agenda For Intersection Safety”.  These recommendations include the promotion of proper placement of red light cameras, funding for red light camera programs, promotion of engineering solutions such as longer yellow light times, and effective guidance to the future of red light cameras by focusing on Safety rather than revenue generation.)

Agency and Enforcement are provided by Congress and the President.

Funding: 3 Million dollars will be set aside from General Federal Revenues to enable the carrying out of this plan.

Advantage 1. Justice

a. Government Stealing Lowered

At this moment we are promoting and even funding local governments who are trying to generate revenue at the cost of their citizens safety.  It’s time to take a stand against federal involvement in this practice by creating standards against abuses.

b. Traffic Violations Reduced

When we are able to combine the red light camera program with engineering solutions such as increased yellow light times, we are able to drastically reduce red light violations, and catch the actual criminals who intentionally violate our laws.

Insurance Institute For Highway Safety, an Independent Non-Profit Research Organization Dedicated To Vehicle and Highway Safety “Q&A Red Light Cameras” June, 2011 http://www.iihs.org/research/qanda/rlr.html

“Studies have shown that increasing yellow timing to values associated with guidelines published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers can significantly decrease the frequency of red light violations. In addition, a 2002 Institute study found that injury crashes at urban intersections fell 12 percent after the yellow and all-red traffic signal timing was modified according to ITE guidelines. An Institute study conducted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, evaluated effects on red light running of first lengthening yellow signal timing by about a second and then introducing red light cameras.While the longer yellow reduced red light violations by 36 percent, adding camera enforcement further cut red light running by another 96 percent.”

Advantage 2. Safety Promoted It’s time for the United States Federal Government to change our acceptance of red light cameras as revenue generators, and reform this system so that the focus is now on the safety of our citizens, otherwise the program will be doomed to failure.

Representative John Duncan, ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit “DUNCAN STATEMENT ON USE OF RED LIGHT & SPEED CAMERAS” June, 2010 http://transportation.house.gov/News/PRArticle.aspx?NewsID=917

Some states and localities may be too quick to install photo enforcement techniques without first exhausting other techniques that can reduce red light running and improve safety. Improving sign visibility, installing advance warning flashers and adjusting yellow light intervals can have a positive impact. Numerous studies have found that longer yellow signal timing can reduce the frequency of red light running violations by as much as 50 percent. “While these solutions may not fill government coffers as much as photo enforcement could, we owe it to our taxpayers to explore these engineering improvements that make our roads and highways safer.

I’d like to close with this quotation from Representative Rick Geist, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, who stressed that the focus of the cameras should be on safety, not revenue. He says:

Pennsylvania Independent Quoting Representative Rick Geist, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee “Transportation Funding Commission Suggests Enabling Legislation for Red Light Cameras” August 2011 http://paindependent.com/2011/08/transportation-funding-commission-suggests-enabling-legislation-for-red-light-cameras/

“The moment that you even allude to the idea that red light cameras are for revenue, you’ve defeated the purpose of the cameras.”

Link to the document mentioned in the Mandates: http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/resources/intersafagenda/


5 Responses to ‘Case of the Week’ 7 (Stoa): Red Light Cameras

  1. Zat’s my debate partner. :D Just thought I’d mention that.

  2. J.W.A. says:

    I liked this site’s Foreign Aid case…. not to hot on this one though. Pretty non-T.

  3. Steven says:

    There is no way this is topical.
    If the Federal Government funds this then great, that doesn’t make it topical. The resolution says revenue generation for the federal government, not the state government. Spending is not the same as revenue generation. The Federal Government is not getting one penny from this.

    • cogdebate says:

      The argument is that this is currently being used as a revenue generation policy by the states, but it shouldn’t be. If you ran this, you’d be arguing that the resolution doesn’t require the plan to generate revenue *for the federal government* – just that it must be a revenue generation policy. Kinda squirrelly, but there are ways to defend it.

      I’m not a big fan of this case (or the flogging case, for that matter), but we had it, and it may be useful to someone, so we posted it. :-)

      – Daniel Gaskell

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