Last month we read the headline: “Missouri Supreme Court Strikes down Red Light cameras.” Depending on the reporter, some media outlets got the story right and some did not.
In fact, red light cameras had little to do with the Supreme Court’s opinion at all. It was the City of Springfield’s enforcement scheme that was condemned by the court. The short version is that Springfield’s red light defendants could not get a real trial, nor a proper appeal. “Nice try, Springfield” the court seemed to say, “but you can’t do that.” Other cities with red-light cameras–such as Columbia, Missouri–may well have judicial schemes that pass muster.
More interestingly, however, the court recounted the facts of the case. The defendant was Adolph Belt, a 30-year veteran of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Experienced at traffic control, Belt investigated the traffic light cycle at the intersection where he was photographed running a red light. The yellow light lasted about 3.5 seconds (too short a time for most traffic light situations).
It turns out that the city of Springfield prepared for the installation of its red light camera system by slashing the yellow warning time by one second at 105 intersection signals across the city. A 2005 Texas Transportation Institute study had shown that a “one-second reduction in yellow time resulted in a 100% increase in the number of violations.” See City Lowers Yellow Light Time Before Installing Cameras. Springfield has been noted as one of “6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit“
It doesn’t take a genius to know that if shaving a second off the yellow light doubles the number of “violations” (meaning the number of red lights being run through), then that lost second is CAUSING accidents.
It is beyond argument that when a yellow light is shortened beyond a certain point, it can be impossible to stop safely before running the red light. Not only do cities know this when they shorten their yellow lights, THEY INTEND IT.
To consciously create such a risk is reckless conduct and if a person were killed in this “shortened yellow” scenario, the city and its leaders would be guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter under section 565.024, RSMo.
Perhaps this situation will give a boost to Senator Jim Lembke’s MIssouri Senate Bill 637 which will forbid the use of red light cameras and thereby remove the incentive for this lethal government scam.