Mats Järlström's fight shows you never cross an engineer
October 22, 2019 6:54 AM   Subscribe

 
A yellow light means caution or yield. Drivers should not be entering intersections on a yellow light to do anything. Imagine if the effort spent here to make the world less safe was used to do something else.
posted by Automocar at 7:06 AM on October 22, 2019 [11 favorites]


"We hereby fine you $500 for doing math equations without prior approval."
posted by Sterros at 7:07 AM on October 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


Um. I mean. Have these people ever driven in a big city? There's a line in Starman where dude explains traffic laws as he perceives them: "Red means stop, Green means go, Yellow means go very fast." Longer yellow lights are going to mean more red light crowders and more drivers going way too fast just at the time they need to be looking out for cross traffic. Jesus fucking christ.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:08 AM on October 22, 2019 [20 favorites]


Which is to say, I hope these engineers pull their slide rules out of their asses and run like five years of before/after safety tests on whether yellow light timing is safer when calculated with math for the advantage of drivers and when it's calculated for the safety and benefit of the most vulnerable intersection users.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:10 AM on October 22, 2019 [12 favorites]


A yellow light means caution or yield. Drivers should not be entering intersections on a yellow light to do anything.

That depends on laws. In Kentucky, it's legal to enter on yellow and continue through the intersection after the light turns red. It is only illegal to enter once the light has changed red. Yellow is only a warning that the light is about to change.
posted by phlyingpenguin at 7:16 AM on October 22, 2019 [17 favorites]


The related articles at the bottom of the piece on The Drive:


OREGON MAN FINED $500 FOR CRITICIZING RED LIGHT CAMERAS, NOT BEING AN ENGINEER

OREGON VIOLATED RIGHTS OF MAN WHO CHALLENGED TIMING OF TRAFFIC LIGHTS

IIHS: DEATHS BY RED LIGHT RUNNERS UP 17 PERCENT FROM 2012
posted by ghharr at 7:17 AM on October 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


That depends on laws. In Kentucky, it's legal to enter on yellow and continue through the intersection after the light turns red. It is only illegal to enter once the light has changed red. Yellow is only a warning that the light is about to change.

Dang, that is shockingly sensible. It's the norm everyone actually follows everywhere I've lived, and it's a real pleasant surprise to have the law just be "do what's normal."
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:26 AM on October 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


 the safety and benefit of the most vulnerable intersection users.

Given that the case was supported by the not-very-keen-on-supporting-vulnerable-people Institute for Justice, I'd say they wanted somebody to think of the poor drivers threatened by pedestrians.

 "We hereby fine you $500 for doing math equations without prior approval."

That's a thing. A former employer was dragged in front of professional engineering tribunals several times for providing technical services while not a P.Eng. He was, however, responsible for nailing down the theory and best technical practice in the industry. This lead to the bizarre situation of the opposing lawyer asking him if he followed international standard such-and-such, and having to reply that he was the chair of the panel that developed international standard such-and-such, the work being based on one of his PhD subjects …
posted by scruss at 7:27 AM on October 22, 2019 [18 favorites]


A yellow light means caution or yield. Drivers should not be entering intersections on a yellow light to do anything. Imagine if the effort spent here to make the world less safe was used to do something else.

The first article is vague, and it could be read to imply that the yellow signal timing was so short that the driver entered the intersection as or before the light turned yellow, but they slowed down to turn, and the automated traffic light camera registered that the light was red before they had exited the intersection.

Also, extending the yellow light timing to allow vehicles to safely exit the intersection before the light turns red seems like it could have a significant benefit. If light timing is so quick that someone is obeying a green light and misses the fact that there's still a car in the intersection, that could be disastrous. And if this timing issue is present around the world, as the Institute of Transportation Engineers has members in 90 countries, this could be a significant safety improvement.

(Also, while there is a certain level of general understanding across engineering fields, some details like this require specialists, so the time spent by traffic engineers on this problem may not really be available to spread to other issues in the world, much like how government funding is allocated for specific types of projects or activities, so unspent military funds can't be used to pay to improve roadways without changing the category of the funding, for example.)

/transportation planner who works in the public sector
posted by filthy light thief at 7:29 AM on October 22, 2019 [29 favorites]


a federal judge in January this year ruled Oregon's rules prohibiting people from representing themselves as engineers without a professional license from the state are unconstitutional.

This would seem to be the bigger news. What is stopping anyone from hanging out a shingle claiming to be a doctor/lawyer/electrician/barber under this ruling?
posted by Mitheral at 7:34 AM on October 22, 2019 [5 favorites]



Dang, that is shockingly sensible. It's the norm everyone actually follows everywhere I've lived, and it's a real pleasant surprise to have the law just be "do what's normal."


We have the same law in Tennessee as of a few years ago and I find it is actually not great. Perhaps the idea is that people will not be penalized by proceeding through the yellow when it would be dangerous to come to a sudden stop but in reality what happens is that when people see the light turn yellow, they put the pedal to the floor because they know that if they can make it into the intersection before the light goes red, they're safe. So now we have lots of people running red lights because they estimated wrong, and also now they're travelling at a much higher rate of speed as they run the light.
posted by ghharr at 7:38 AM on October 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


It's literally about turn-time safety and making sure that people that are in the middle of the intersection when the light turns actually has enough time to complete the turn before the next set of drivers has a green.

I live in the same town as this guy. Partially this is about an Oregon traffic law that allows you to save an unprotected left turn by pulling into the intersection, so that at least one goddamn person can make their left turn per light cycle (not that more than a quarter of the populace actually does this, no one seems to know the traffic laws around here anyway), but sometimes this leaves you sitting there in the middle of the intersection when the light starts turning and the traffic cameras don't do a good job of taking this law and this situation that it leads to into account when issuing automatic citations.

Also, considering that I've seen four or five people in the last year stone-cold run red lights three or more seconds after they had changed to red, at least two of which I could clearly see fucking with their phones, makes me think that a slight fractional increase in the length of yellows isn't really worth getting apoplectic about.

But perhaps the greatest victory for Jarlstrom is the panel's newly penned recommendation that ITE place stronger language in its guidelines to point out that its recommended practices should not be used to determine traffic violations using zero-tolerance red light cameras.

And of course, this paragraph is what actually drove him to do this thing, because this was the real problem, not the traffic light lengths. (Which probably should have been revisited since fucking 1960 anyway. We have a lot more, um, engineering know-how these days?)
posted by Caduceus at 7:41 AM on October 22, 2019 [15 favorites]


This would seem to be the bigger news. What is stopping anyone from hanging out a shingle claiming to be a doctor/lawyer/electrician/barber under this ruling?

Probably the fact that the ruling applies specifically to engineers and Oregon's Professional Engineer Registration Act. You can certainly hang a shingle calling yourself any of those things, but saying "I'm a doctor" is not the same thing as practicing medicine, and it's also not the same thing as saying "I'm a doctor" in a way meant to defraud others.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:46 AM on October 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


As I'm reading this it is intended to lead to yellows that are long enough to let cars pass through before the light turns red, when driving under safe speeds, which seems like it'd improve safety. Definitely when it comes to enforcement. The rise of red light cameras mean these need to be realistic, unless the town wants to use it as a revenue stream.

It went through ITE so while it's possible they got it wrong, I'm more inclined to trust them than people who just seem to thi

This would seem to be the bigger news. What is stopping anyone from hanging out a shingle claiming to be a doctor/lawyer/electrician/barber under this ruling?

There's a difference between a CPA and an accountant, a doctor and a someone licensed to practice medicine on patients, etc.

Licensing barbers and cosmeticians (as opposed to the businesses themselves) is silly and a scam to extract money from the relatively poorer people who go into these professions.
posted by mark k at 7:54 AM on October 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


it's also not the same thing as saying "I'm a doctor" in a way meant to defraud others.

And it's not like, with the way homeopathy and anti-vaxx shit and a million fact-less fad diets get pushed in the US, it's actually very difficult to do more or less this exact thing already, either.
posted by Caduceus at 7:55 AM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Imagine if the effort spent here to make the world less safe was used to do something else.

Did you read the facts of the case?
posted by Candleman at 7:55 AM on October 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


So now we have lots of people running red lights because they estimated wrong, and also now they're travelling at a much higher rate of speed as they run the light.

I live near a moderately busy intersection where folks in one direction routinely push yellows and wind up running reds instead. The results are predictable. I've actually wondered if a sign indicating number of days since last crash (or number of crashes this year) might help folks with "their math."
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 8:00 AM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


In Toronto, we've recently started using overlapping reds and pedestrian crossing signals that light up a few seconds before the traffic signals turn green, effectively giving pedestrians priority crossing. It's surprising how big a difference it makes.
posted by mhoye at 8:09 AM on October 22, 2019 [24 favorites]


Do programmers in Oregon have to call themselves programmers or do they still get to present themselves as engineers?
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:09 AM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also in the Related section on the Drive page:
Uber's Autonomous Vehicles Responsible For Red Light Violations, Not "Human Error"
Internal documents dispute Uber's public claim.
That will be because running red lights is disruptive.
posted by flabdablet at 8:10 AM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


The thing with the free speech law is that I can now call myself a civil engineer, even though I don’t have my PE license yet. This changes nothing except now I don’t have to dance around saying what I do (well I do civil engineering but can’t call myself an engineer, etc).

However, you cannot stamp plans - affirm that a design is good and you accept liability - without the license AND proof that the aspect of the plans you are stamping is within the realm of your expertise. If I get my PE in transportation, then spend 10 years doing geotech, I could stamp both transportation and geotech plans assuming I kept up my CEU with transpo or whatever.

The “fined for doing math” is a cheap shot and doesn’t do anyone any favors.
posted by curious nu at 8:15 AM on October 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


in reality what happens is that when people see the light turn yellow, they put the pedal to the floor

We have a bit of that, but I'd much prefer somebody scooting through an intersection than coming to a sudden dead stop in front of me. The second part of it is that all of our lights stay red for a second or two after the opposing lights turn from yellow to red. The lights allow for it and I don't get the feeling there are many accidents just due to the yellow light rule. On the flip side, the number of "safe" drivers screaming to a stop on yellow assuming my brakes/tires are as good as theirs is a problem. Follow distance only does so much.
posted by phlyingpenguin at 8:16 AM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Because the approach speed is often unknown, the formula is usually calculated with the approach speed factored in as the posted speed limit, plus seven miles per hour. A separate calculation is used for both left and right turns.

Yikes. So the yellows were already longer than they really should have been given the formula.

Lubbock TX has really (really) long yellow lights, or at least I always felt it did passing through.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:18 AM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Because the approach speed is often unknown, the formula is usually calculated with the approach speed factored in as the posted speed limit, plus seven miles per hour.

Wouldn’t that lead to shorter yellows? And it seems to me that yellows tend to too short as it is; there is one large intersection I routinely drive through where the yellow is too short to allow someone crossing the intersection at the speed limit to cross it before the light changes to yellow. Not to mention anyone who enters the intersection after the light turns yellow because they don’t have time to stop. Fortunately we don’t have red light cameras here or else the yellows might become even shorter, as has been alleged in other places.
posted by TedW at 8:27 AM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


The "practicing engineering without a license" things is news to me. Eighteen years ago, my 17-year-old punkass self got a speeding ticket. I was dead to rights, and they could have given me my 45-in-a-35 ticket and I would have meagerly accepted it, but the cop was a corrupt asshole who wrote the ticket for an absurdly-but-specifically-high speed (2x the speed limit, -2MPH, because at 2x it's a criminal charge and you have to prove it in a real court) because I was a kid from out of state. Well, if you know many anti-authoritarian 17-year-olds, you probably know how this went: I fought the ticket. Basis of complaint: the laws of physics. There was no Google Maps yet, so I brought in a bunch of printed satellite pages from MapQuest, drove back out with my trusty measuring tape and disposable camera to verify the distance, and then got my calculus teacher to help with the equations showing what the maximal attainable speed was given the distance from a previous stop sign. It was a great deal lower than what the infraction claimed.

And by god, I won that case. Case dismissed, 'cause the officer was proved a liar by the motherfucking laws of physics. He suffered no repercussions, of course, but it was the crowning achievement of my 17-year-old smartass life.
posted by Mayor West at 8:30 AM on October 22, 2019 [88 favorites]


I'd much prefer somebody scooting through an intersection than coming to a sudden dead stop in front of me

In BC, yellows are treated as stop-unless-you-can't. If you hit me because you're tailgating you're at fault.
posted by klanawa at 8:42 AM on October 22, 2019 [10 favorites]


That depends on laws. In Kentucky, it's legal to enter on yellow and continue through the intersection after the light turns red. It is only illegal to enter once the light has changed red. Yellow is only a warning that the light is about to change.

This describes what drivers are allowed to get away with without being subject to a fine or other law enforcement action but that does NOT automatically mean that following the bare letter of the law is the safest approach.

The law defines the shittiest behavior that is tolerated.

So while it may be legal to enter the intersection while the light is yellow whether or not it's actually safe to do so would depend on a host of other factors.
posted by VTX at 8:46 AM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


On the flip side, the number of "safe" drivers screaming to a stop on yellow assuming my brakes/tires are as good as theirs is a problem. Follow distance only does so much.

If your driving or your brakes or tires would result in an accident when a car in front of you stops for any reason, that's on you. You're the unsafe driver, not the person who slows or stops; vehicles need to be able to slow down or stop at any time. If something falls off a truck and the person in front of you slams on their brakes, you don't get to rear-end them and write it off as an act of God or something like that.
posted by XMLicious at 8:50 AM on October 22, 2019 [31 favorites]


100%/0% assignment of fault is not a great basis for engineering. It makes the legal aspects simpler, but you really can't say "I'm in the right, therefore this is not my problem". I mean, it is your problem since you just got rear-ended. If we want safe-ish roads, we probably shouldn't have people brake-checking each other on a regular basis.
posted by ryanrs at 9:00 AM on October 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


IIHS: DEATHS BY RED LIGHT RUNNERS UP 17 PERCENT FROM 2012

Yes - because traffic cams are run by private companies, who work with the cities to raise revenue by *shortening* the light cycles to *increase* the amount of violations, which is directly related to increased accidents.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:07 AM on October 22, 2019 [21 favorites]


If the light has been yellow long enough that's its unsafe to continue through the intersection, it's not brake checking. To me, that's the important aspect of yellow light timing.
posted by klanawa at 9:09 AM on October 22, 2019


If your driving or your brakes or tires would result in an accident when a car in front of you stops for any reason, that's on you.

It turns out different vehicles have different capabilities without being in disrepair. As noted, I allow plenty of follow distance. Brake lights simply don't convey a speed of stop. Sports cars often stop in fractions of the distance that a normal sedan/SUV/truck stops, for instance. It ain't on me if the person in front does something unsafe. I should also note that KY is an at-fault state. There's no rear-end and it's your fault rule. Everybody's 100% at fault in any accident.
posted by phlyingpenguin at 9:11 AM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Some traffic cameras are run by private companies. But in many jurisdictions, that is simply not the case at all.
posted by ambrosen at 9:12 AM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


I was taught yellow light means you are to stop if it is safe to do so. If you can’t safely stop, then you should proceed through the intersection but do not increase your speed.

As noted above, there is a financial incentive for cities to shorten yellows to collect more red light camera tickets. There is also a traffic flow incentive to shorten yellow times on busy roads to keep the stop/slow time to a minimum.

Intuitively, a longer yellow for left turn lights makes sense, as someone in that lane has to wait for oncoming traffic to clear the intersection before they can start their turn.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 9:19 AM on October 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


If you don't leave enough follow distance so that you can safely stop your vehicle if the car in front of you slams on it's brakes for any reason, you are following too closely, full stop. If you're saying that your vehicle, when performing normally takes longer to stop than the average, then you need to leave more distance.

Your vehicle's ability to stop is one of the things you need to factor into a safe follow distance. If you need more distance to stop without hitting the vehicle in front of you because the specific vehicle you're driving isn't capable of stopping as fast as you're used to, BACK THE FUCK OFF!

So, once again "If your driving or your brakes or tires would result in an accident when a car in front of you stops for any reason, that's on you."
posted by VTX at 9:20 AM on October 22, 2019 [19 favorites]


It's a nice sentiment, but you're both wrong (for this locale) and missing the point/perspective. I'm not talking about tailgating at all. You can't read the mind of or control the person ahead of you, full stop. I'd prefer them be encouraged to do a safe thing and clear the intersection than an unsafe thing. Fortunately, I pay enough attention and give the follow distance not to get caught up in accidents.

That's all I'll say on the matter though. Have fun being right when you rear end some kid that can stop faster than you expect.
posted by phlyingpenguin at 9:32 AM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


[Hi gang, gentle nudge that not every thread about cars needs to become an all-or-nothing throwdown. Just make your points about the issues in the links, don't make it about yelling at others in the thread.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:39 AM on October 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


Automatic ticketing cameras should be illegal, privately run ones doubly so.
posted by maxwelton at 10:12 AM on October 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


I was taught yellow light means you are to stop if it is safe to do so. If you can’t safely stop, then you should proceed through the intersection but do not increase your speed.

This is correct and logically must be. Once you have reached the point of no return, it is physically impossible to stop before entering the intersection on yellow unless you slow to a crawl before every intersection just in case it will turn yellow. And that would be silly and dangerous. The laws of physics must trump the laws of man.

My understanding is that laws differ as to whether you are to clear or to enter the intersection before red. I always assume "clear." In my experience allowances are generally made for left turns.

(As a sometime cyclist, I've developed the habit of noticing the crosswalk countdown as a warning that the yellow is coming. The yellow often isn't enough time to clear the intersection on a bike.)
posted by sjswitzer at 10:27 AM on October 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


In Seattle, most lights with crosswalks have a countdown, which you would think would be useful in knowing how soon the light will turn yellow. Except, some crosswalks at the end of the countdown the light doesn't turn yellow but waits a number of seconds (sometimes longer than the countdown) , and others turn yellow immediately at the end of the countdown. Unless you drive through the intersection often, you have no idea if the countdown will be useful to you as a driver or not. I have no idea why there's this inconsistency with the countdown.

However, most signaled intersections do have a 1 or 2 second period where lights are red in both directions between switching to green in one direction, which is good for clearing the intersection before a green light.
posted by ShooBoo at 10:43 AM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Drivers should not be entering intersections on a yellow light to do anything.

That's impossible due to that crazy thing, the laws of physics. A car traveling at the legal speed limit still needs a certain amount of road to stop. That's why we *have* yellow lights; they tell you that a red light is approaching and that you should stop if you can do so safely before the intersection, and that you should continue through if you are too close to stop without causing an accident, either from the car behind you or because you end up in the intersection.
posted by tavella at 10:46 AM on October 22, 2019 [16 favorites]


most signaled intersections do have a 1 or 2 second period where lights are red in both directions between switching to green in one direction

Never seen Australian traffic lights that don't do this. How is it not no-brainer standard practice worldwide?
posted by flabdablet at 10:47 AM on October 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


I have no idea why there's this inconsistency with the countdown.

Likely to do with programming errors and/or changing standards over the years. Or just a bug in the code that’s developed. Networked signal controllers are relatively new and no one invests properly in infrastructure, so it’s very possible no one responsible in your transportation bureau even knows it’s an issue at a particular intersection. I don’t know what Seattle has set up for citizen reporting, but check and see if there’s a hotline or website you can log this sort of thing in.
posted by curious nu at 10:49 AM on October 22, 2019


Unless you drive through the intersection often, you have no idea if the countdown will be useful to you as a driver or not. I have no idea why there's this inconsistency with the countdown.

I suspect it's so you can't "time" the light to prevent people jumping the green.
posted by Zedcaster at 10:49 AM on October 22, 2019


(The extra seconds of all-red are the clear time. If you notice this is not the case at an intersection, please report this to your city! That’s a problem in the signal timing)
posted by curious nu at 10:50 AM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also, tavella's explanation of yellow lights is exactly what the road rules applicable to them mean in every Australian State and Territory, as far as I know. It's also not illegal to be in an intersection when the signal you passed in order to enter it is red, unless it was already red when you entered; your obligation under those circumstances is to clear the intersection as quickly as is safely achievable. Again, how is this not totally, unremarkably standard?
posted by flabdablet at 10:50 AM on October 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


If it were in fact illegal to be in an intersection that's now showing red in the direction you came from, the notorious Melbourne hook turn would be extra super duper illegal instead of being mandatory where marked.
posted by flabdablet at 10:59 AM on October 22, 2019


> Licensing barbers and cosmeticians (as opposed to the businesses themselves) is silly and a scam to extract money from the relatively poorer people who go into these professions.

What? No. What the hell gave you that idea? People who work on hair need to prove they can cut, dye, curl, and straighten it while avoiding all of the myriad ways they can harm their clientele while wielding sharp devices and harsh chemicals. They need to know how to test for and deal with allergic reactions. Barbers have to be able to wield straight razors without slashing their clients, and have to know how to respond in case of an accident. Cosmetologists are applying enamels and solvents directly to human flesh and need to know what they're doing. All of them are exposed to routine public health issues (such as hair lice) and need to know how to minimize risk of contamination and contagion.

Licensing exists for these crafts so that people can be barred from practice when they are reckless or malicious.
posted by ardgedee at 11:00 AM on October 22, 2019 [20 favorites]


Damn straight. Last thing I want behind me in a brake check situation is an unlicensed barber wielding sharp devices and harsh chemicals. Stopping distance on those things is terrible.
posted by flabdablet at 11:08 AM on October 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


Partially this is about an Oregon traffic law that allows you to save an unprotected left turn by pulling into the intersection, so that at least one goddamn person can make their left turn per light cycle

Do what now?
Oregon law is very clear that you should not enter an intersection on a steady yellow circle unless you can't safely stop. *
If you are facing a blinking yellow arrow, you may enter the intersection, but only to make your turn. **
I am not aware of any law that explicitly permits you to wait in the middle of an intersection but I'm happy to be corrected because it would sure make my mornings easier.

(not that more than a quarter of the populace actually does this, no one seems to know the traffic laws around here anyway)

Oregon traffic laws, like most states I'm sure, are a mess of vague and contradictory statements

*ORS 811.260(4)
Steady circular yellow signal. A driver facing a steady circular yellow signal light is thereby warned that the related right of way is being terminated and that a red or flashing red light will be shown immediately. A driver facing the light shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, shall stop before entering the marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if there is no marked crosswalk, then before entering the intersection. If a driver cannot stop in safety, the driver may drive cautiously through the intersection.

**ORS 811.260(13)
Flashing yellow arrow signal. A driver facing a flashing yellow arrow signal, alone or in combination with other signal indications, may cautiously enter the intersection only to make the movement indicated by the flashing yellow arrow signal or the movement permitted by other signals shown at the same time.

posted by madajb at 11:11 AM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


So the law in Oregon is:

(4)Steady circular yellow signal. A driver facing a steady circular yellow signal light is thereby warned that the related right of way is being terminated and that a red or flashing red light will be shown immediately. A driver facing the light shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, but if none, shall stop before entering the marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if there is no marked crosswalk, then before entering the intersection. If a driver cannot stop in safety, the driver may drive cautiously through the intersection.

And according to a short piece in the Oregonian Newspulp this is unlike most states, including the state across the river, Washington, where it goes:

(a) Vehicle operators facing a steady circular yellow or yellow arrow signal are thereby warned that the related green movement is being terminated or that a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter when vehicular traffic shall not enter the intersection. Vehicle operators shall stop for pedestrians who or personal delivery devices that are lawfully within the intersection control area as required by RCW 46.61.235(1).

Seems like a challenge to put "cannot stop in safety and drive cautiously through the intersection" into a camera.

As far as the "Engineering" thing I don't think it is a stretch to conclude that Oregon was trying to be a bully because they don't want the mess of somebody coming along and suing them and the private companies that run the traffic cams: https://transportation.conduent.com/solutions/public-safety/

Oregon is a dynamic rapidly changing place and despite its progressive reputation I don't think it is inaccurate to say that there is a fair bit of soft corruption here. The awarding of contract for Portland's parking machines was completely corrupt and ended in jail time is one story of note that made the papers I believe there is a lot more just doing business kind of things that happen that are not technically illegal but would leave a sour taste if they were more fully public.
posted by Pembquist at 11:12 AM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


As a sometime cyclist, I've developed the habit of noticing the crosswalk countdown as a warning that the yellow is coming.

Yeah, I do this both as a cyclist and a driver. The yellow itself is usually adequate but more foresight is better. In my city the pedestrian countdown almost always ends with the switch to yellow so if it's getting close to zero I prepare to stop.

But I'm not a liar. I'll cop to using it as a signal to speed up... once... or twice...
posted by klanawa at 11:46 AM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


tax by citation - nice little phrase there
posted by djseafood at 12:26 PM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


The one that bugs me is traffic lights on streets with speed limits above 40 to 45 MPH. There are none near here but when I encounter them I feel existential dread.
posted by sjswitzer at 12:36 PM on October 22, 2019


In Toronto, we've recently started using overlapping reds and pedestrian crossing signals that light up a few seconds before the traffic signals turn green, effectively giving pedestrians priority crossing. It's surprising how big a difference it makes.

It is illegal to mention Canada to Americans on the internet before they have had a chance to clear the intersection.
posted by srboisvert at 12:40 PM on October 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


IIHS: DEATHS BY RED LIGHT RUNNERS UP 17 PERCENT FROM 2012

Yes - because traffic cams are run by private companies, who work with the cities to raise revenue by *shortening* the light cycles to *increase* the amount of violations, which is directly related to increased accidents.


Except when they break down the accidents by type the increase is almost entirely rear-ending accidents. That has almost nothing to do with minutiae of light timing shenanigans and instead is because that there is an established culture of gunning through yellows even if there are cars in front of you that can safely stop in time!

I'd assume consistent enforcement of red-light running punishment would over time significantly alter that gunning for the light culture while at the same time continuing the demonstrated effect of reducing t-bone accidents (15% reduction in a very dangerous type of crash is not nothing! I don't why people minimize this. Intersections are where most accidents happen and there are 300,000+ hospitalizations and 30,000+ fatalities per year - even if we cut out a fraction of a fraction that's hundreds of lives saved and thousands of injuries prevented).

I get the outrage over the enforcement issues because in the U.S. they have been pretty suspect in places - hell Chicago is still getting grand juries and federal search warrants for their red light camera implementation's bribery and patronage issues. But the opposition is bit too much "Don't Tread Me!" from a political lobby that is sponsored by manufacturers of vehicles that produce an annual death toll that exceeds U.S. casualties in the Vietnam War.

It's in everyone's interest that people slow down and proceed carefully and safely through intersections. We shouldn't let impatience be the justification for the stochastic manufacture of ruined or lives.
posted by srboisvert at 12:58 PM on October 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


When my kids were learning to drive, I told them that the most important thing besides being sober and alert is to not do anything surprising to other drivers. So, yeah, follow the traffic laws but also... when in Rome do as the Romans. (NB: Do not drive in Rome.)

So, to my mind uniformity of traffic laws is a good thing. But rules about yellow lights and right-on-red, etc. do vary among states, not to mention countries. Why rental car companies, especially at airports, do not routinely hand out a leaflet with bullet points on some of these local variations is shocking to me. (I did get a leaflet about toll roads in SoCal, so thanks, I guess, but that was more of a CYA for the rental company.)

Counterpoint: It's good that different regions can make gradual changes to their traffic systems and regulations to improve traffic safety (less good if for revenue enhancement). Other regions can adopt the changes if they prove-out. To that point, my own city (SF) has done as Toronto and now gives pedestrians a head start. That's mostly unnoticeable to drivers and a great boon for pedestrian safety. I've not seen any changes in traffic throughput, so win-win!
posted by sjswitzer at 1:13 PM on October 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


The folks who seem to think that arguing for correctly timed lights is equivalent to arguing for more dead pedestrians would probably like to know that the current MUTCD standard, as it has for well over a decade now, takes the needs of all road users into account in its "required" formulae on traffic signal timing, including pedestrian crossing signals. Not only that, but they are backed by literally decades of peer reviewed study into what makes for the safest roads for everyone.

Since it isn't literally mandatory much of the time and isn't well enforced when it isn't (which may not be the worst thing ever; there are still situations in which designing to MUTCD standards in their entirety would make for a pedestrian-hostile environment, but most of that has long since been resolved), municipalities often either fail to or refuse to comply and make their roads less safe as a result. Usually either to make money from red light cameras or to be seen to be doing something when a resident complains, reasonably or otherwise.

What "seems" like it is encouraging bad behavior actually improves compliance with signals and reduces collision rates. As with many areas in life, doing what feels good and "seems like it should work" to get people to stop doing the thing doesn't actually stop the thing.

Do whatever you want in your personal life, FSM knows I often waste little time assigning blame, but when it comes to things that amount to issues of public health, we simply can't afford to let our gut feelings get in the way of doing things that are effective at reducing the carnage on our streets and highways. I'm not personally too bothered by giving up on my desire to stick it to the driver of nearly every damn car I see to save even one lifetime of back pain, much less a life. Among other things, inappropriately short yellow times increase the rate of rear-end collisions, which come with an extraordinarily high risk of whiplash and spinal injuries.

It's also important that, if we drive, we keep in mind that while we are legally required to stop at a red signal, and in most states on yellow if we can do so reasonably and safely (if you have to slam on your brakes, that isn't safe), we are also legally required to yield on green to traffic already in the intersection.

This is most important for those of us who drive through intersections with inappropriately short yellow periods, especially when combined with a short or entirely nonexistent all red phase. Such conditions drastically increase red light violations and the crashes associated with them. The owner of the traffic light may be negligent, but we are the ones whose property and bodies get mangled, no matter whether our driving is at fault or not. It pays to be extra careful when the deck is stacked against you.
posted by wierdo at 2:01 PM on October 22, 2019 [10 favorites]


in reality what happens is that when people see the light turn yellow, they put the pedal to the floor

this was me until I started driving cab. It's not a good percentage move at all. And driving cab just accentuates how much driving is a percentage game. If something is only one percent dangerous, that doesn't sound so bad. But it you end up doing it once a day, you're going to have at least three incidents a year. And so on.

I do like how my jurisdiction (British Columbia) explains the yellow light:

steady yellow light — means that the signal is about to turn red. You must stop before entering the intersection unless you can’t safely stop in time.

Nuf said. This also speaks to my cab driver's brain. If you make a habit out of chancing yellows, chance will eventually turn on you. It's the nature of chance.
posted by philip-random at 2:30 PM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


> I get the outrage over the enforcement issues because in the U.S. they have been pretty suspect in places - hell Chicago is still getting grand juries and federal search warrants for their red light camera implementation's bribery and patronage issues. But the opposition is bit too much "Don't Tread Me!" from a political lobby that is sponsored by manufacturers of vehicles that produce an annual death toll that exceeds U.S. casualties in the Vietnam War.

FWIW I've seen research that appears to be pretty solid, that the best way to actually change driver behavior would be small-ish fines or other consequences that are often and consistently applied--vs what we have now, which is large fines that are very seldom and very inconsistently applied.

So for example you get a $5 ticket pretty much every time you push through a red light, or drive more than say 5 mph over the speed limit. But it's like $5 or maybe even $1 not $260 (which is a ridiculously high amount for most of us, especially for being 1/10th of a second late through a red light--but is also on the very low end of fines levied by our current system). Or maybe its a points system where if you improve your behavior your points disappear and you don't have to pay at all. But if you don't change your driving behavior it becomes small, consistent consequences, not huge random fines.

I'm not necessarily pushing for the $1 fine thing, but rather pointing out that the objective is changing driver behavior and improving the public safety, not collecting $$$ or exacting revenge or just enforcing random traffic laws for the hell of it.

As pointed out in the thread above, traffic deaths and injuries cause more death and mayhem annually than most wars you have heard about.

Worldwide, it's 1.25 million killed annually and 20-50 million seriously injured or disabled.

Just in the U.S. (which is among the worst developed countries for road safety), it's been 30,000-45,000 killed annually over the past 20 years, and 2-3 million injured. Every year.

And also pointing out that depending on individual responsibility to change behavior simply doesn't work in situations like this. You have to change the system (which is the only real way to change individual behavior over large populations and over the long run).

Of the motor vehicle injuries, roughly 10% are serious or incapacitating, so you're looking at 200,000-300,000 serious/debilitating injuries annually just in the U.S..

Yet we all seem to treat this with a giant shrug, as though it's not very serious and there is nothing to be done.

Wrong and wrong.
posted by flug at 2:51 PM on October 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


I mentioned above the U.S. is worse than pretty much every other industrialized country in terms of traffic injuries and fatalities.

Here is one interesting analysis of that: Traffic Fatality Reductions: United States Compared With 25 Other Countries by Leonard Evans.

About half of the reason the U.S. is worse seems to be that we have a worse driving culture--practices, laws, engineering, enforcement, etc. The other half is that we simply drive at least 2X as much as other similar countries because we've engineered out cities and towns to required it and lock out every other alternative.

But "the U.S. has vast distances" blah-blah-blah. Yeah, no. We still drive w-a-y more--and have a worse per-km driving record--than other countries with similarly vast distances. The vast majority of all driving is local, not getting from here to Albuquerque and back.

It's not the Interstate Freeway system that needs to be redesigned, but our suburbs. And our mass transit systems, sidewalk and trail systems, bicycle transportation systems, etc.

Three interesting figures from that article:

* Traffic fatalities over time in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Great Britain. Fatalities in Canada, Australia and Great Britain all look very similar in the sense of decreasing pretty steadily since their peak in the early 1970s. The U.S. is the very clear outlier--in a bad way. Traffic fatalities have decreased in all these countries since the 1970s, but the U.S. has decreased by far the least--especially since about 1990, when it seems to have started to plot a course all its own.

* Comparison of traffic fatality declines in 25 countries shows the U.S. leading the pack--in lack of improvement.

* Fatalities per 1000 vehicles and billion km driven in 25 countries show the U.S. in first place in the early 1970s but gradually moving to the back of the pack over the past 40 years.
posted by flug at 3:09 PM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yet we all seem to treat this with a giant shrug, as though it's not very serious and there is nothing to be done.

Wrong and wrong.


I hear where you're coming from and largely agree about your suggestion that changing the system is the only effective way to collectively alter individuals' behaviors, but I also think that the fact must be faced that realistically some level of casualties are acceptable. The only way to prevent driving deaths entirely is to destroy cars and the means to produce them, which is certainly not going to happen in our lifetimes. It follows that society will somehow land on an acceptable level of danger incumbent in the motor vehicle system. We can argue about where that level should lie, and I think one would find that answer would be different even in different municipalities, let alone states/provinces/regions/countries/etc.
posted by axiom at 3:10 PM on October 22, 2019


Who's the acceptable death among your family and friends?
posted by asperity at 3:16 PM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


(That was not intended as a personal question. But that's a big part of why Vision Zero is a thing, if not a thing that's being implemented especially well. If we're going to set some acceptable death toll, we have to acknowledge that these aren't just numbers.)
posted by asperity at 3:19 PM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Now can we do something about the intersection in Madison that has both a Right turn on one direction as Green and the ONCOMING as Green at the same time, such that the left turning -oncoming somehow magically get right of way before the people who are actually turning right?

Hey Mats, how much you charging for your non-professional professional advise.

Seriously - I do feel icky about who's touting this on the other hand, I'm very much pro-keep yellow longer.
posted by symbioid at 4:09 PM on October 22, 2019


steady yellow light — means that the signal is about to turn red. You must stop before entering the intersection unless you can’t safely stop in time.

This is consistent with Australia, where most states prosecute drivers for speeding up on a yellow. When it turns yellow, you are meant to stop, unless it is not safe to do so. If the police judge that it was safe for you to stop and you instead sped up to make it through the intersection, you will be hit with a fine and demerit points - $600,000 in fines in just one state alone.

Penalties are also doubled in some states if you speed up to cross an intersection and get caught by a speed camera in that intersection on a red light - you get hit for both crossing on a red, and speed, and then they double the penalties for those offenses, because it's extra dangerous that you committed both infringements at the same time - not only are you crossing the intersection when you're not supposed to, but you're doing it at high speed!

There's about 5 automated traffic control cameras on my commute to work, the joke is that it's not about training machines to drive more like humans (self driving cars), it's about training humans to drive like machines.
posted by xdvesper at 4:15 PM on October 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


I know the thread has moved past this, but there was an interesting article in Scientific American about traffic light timing (this probably would have been in the late '70s or early '80s.) The author used the performance specs of an air-cooled VW (beetle? 411?) as their hypothetical vehicle and IIRC the "point of no return zone " was significant... where driving the speed limit or a bit above it was not possible to stop in time but accelerating at full throttle wouldn't get you through the intersection before the light turned red. (Obviously, most modern vehicles can accelerate and stop much better than air cooled VWs, but there are people towing trailers, driving vehicles in sub optimal condition, etc. ) Longer yellows also give more leeway for low traction weather conditions which might impact a driver's ability to stop or accelerate as well.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 4:24 PM on October 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Automatic ticketing is good and is the future. So is the ability to opt-in to insurance companies monitoring your driving habits 100% of the time. These technologies are inherently fair and are targeted at a major preventable cause of death. If you don't like it there will be self-driving transport available.
posted by fraxil at 6:38 PM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Please increase the duration of yellow lights at the bottom of hills, because I sometimes have good reason to drive a 10,000 lb vehicle and it's a bit exciting to bring it from 60 mph to a stop in two seconds.

Please ticket people Facetiming while driving, this should be so much easier than figuring out if someone is drunk.

Please give us ubiquitous nationwide instant public transportation and take away my vehicle, and also can I bring my cat? And my laundry?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:43 PM on October 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


These technologies are inherently fair
If you're making them opt-in, they're unavoidably going to be used to target populations on the basis of race.
posted by CrystalDave at 6:44 PM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


If you're making them opt-in, they're unavoidably going to be used to target populations on the basis of race
As far as I know, and correct me if I'm wrong, no automatic ticketing systems exist that take into account the race of the driver, if that was even feasible to begin with.

As far as opt-in, I don't see how that makes sense. How does it make more sense to pay a person with a salary + benefits to point a laser at cards, then decide based on his observations (kind of car, location, appearance of driver) whether or not an offense has occurred, when a machine does it cheaply and fairly?

Lastly, the cost also goes down when you remove the cop from the equation. For example, if you don't change your behavior, you may get ticketed 10x more times, but for those who learn after 1 or 2 offenses, the cost becomes 1/10 or 2/10 of what it was before. I don't see the downside.
posted by fraxil at 6:50 PM on October 22, 2019


You can't automate enforcement of the unlawful driving habits that directly cause the vast majority of crashes. Sadly, most actual human police don't bother anyway, because it's easier and cheaper to fixate on a usually somewhat arbitrary number that is by its very definition completely inapplicable in a wide range of circumstances. (And, in many states, isn't even an absolute limit)

Moreover, automated means are entirely useless at enforcing the law in the very circumstances in which the number matters most, since timed school zones and temporary reductions for construction, special events, and such cannot be precomputed and appear, disappear, and change times pretty much at random.

Perhaps when the traffic code is written more for public safety than to enable modern day highwaymen we can have nice things, but here in a country where cities often use confusing or inadequate signage to literally trick drivers into speeding tickets, giving your insurance company the means to ding you for every infraction you get duped into based on the uncontestable say so of a little black box built for the lowest possible price with the cheapest possible components and little or no QC, and plugged in to a port where GPS reception is itself necessarily marginal, seems naïve at best.
posted by wierdo at 7:45 PM on October 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


This would seem to be the bigger news. What is stopping anyone from hanging out a shingle claiming to be a doctor/lawyer/electrician/barber under this ruling?

The Institute for Justice would like nothing more than this!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:07 PM on October 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


Please increase the duration of yellow lights at the bottom of hills, because I sometimes have good reason to drive a 10,000 lb vehicle and it's a bit exciting to bring it from 60 mph to a stop in two seconds.

Traralgon, a rural city I drive through occasionally between my home and the capital and located on a major truck route, has a couple of intersections with PREPARE TO STOP warning signs about 200m upstream and uphill. These begin to show an attention-getting alternating yellow flash well before the intersection signals start to change.

I've never had cause to exceed the speed limit on these sections of road and generally stick pretty close to it, and every time I've driven past one of these signs when it wasn't flashing, I've not then had to stop at the intersection. I've also seen drivers in the next lane accelerate quite hard when we pass one that's just begun to flash, and every time this happens they have to decelerate equally hard to avoid running the red as the lights change ahead. The timing seems to have been worked out very competently.
posted by flabdablet at 10:49 PM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Speed limits are absolutely set with the expectation that people will speed somewhat. This is why you'll see those yellow signs warning you to slow down to 35 mph on a curve in what is already a 35 zone. People doing the design understand humans are human, enforcement is not perfect, and a good system will be robust to bad behaviors. (So implying that a short yellow that forced people to slam on breaks is OK because people aren't supposed to tailgate is like a really bad instinct on safety and design.)

In theory we could get enforcement much better by using GPS, cameras, speed sensors, etc. We could approach something close to zero tolerance. There'd be a lot of benefits. But the speed limits have tolerances and the fines are based on the fact that you're unlikely to be caught so punishment needs to be steep when you are. Just improving enforcement knocks the other stuff out of whack. IMHO.

"Re-evaluate everything" is true even if you think rules and safety trade offs are far too risky now. Enforcing a current set of arbitrary rules to the letter doesn't make sense if you don't like the current rules either.
posted by mark k at 11:07 PM on October 22, 2019


If you don't leave enough follow distance so that you can safely stop your vehicle if the car in front of you slams on it's brakes for any reason, you are following too closely, full stop.

The problem is that the traffic is heavier than this rule during nearly every rush hour. There are more cars on the road than can possibly stop if the car in front of them dead stopped suddenly on most major highways. This isn’t a people driving badly thing, it’s a “the roads can’t handle the volume” thing.
posted by corb at 11:44 PM on October 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


> I've seen four or five people in the last year stone-cold run red lights three or more seconds after they had changed to red [...]

i spent a couple years commuting to work by bicycle every day -- on one memorable occasion i saw a car sail through a red light in an intersection and narrowly miss half a dozen cyclists who were crossing with a green. after that i sat down with a spreadsheet and estimated the money i was saving riding a bike vs taking the train, and compared that with the expected cost of medical bills and loss of earnings from being hit by a car multiplied by my probability guesstimate of getting hit given i was cycling through the intersection 10 times per week. it was pretty heavily in favour of not riding my bike.

i still kept on cycling in, as cycling is a lot more fun than the train.

i think the general solution to this problem is a bit like how you defend against terrorist attacks: you have a lot of people and put them in different places, so it's hard to lose everyone at once.
posted by are-coral-made at 1:46 AM on October 23, 2019


Three seconds? I thought (apparently incorrectly?) that the term "to run a red light" implied that one was trying to get thru the intersection BEFORE the light turned red, but failed, and ended up sailing thru the intersection after the light turned red. THREE SECONDS implies that this person sees the red light, looks around for two and a half seconds thinking "looks clear, no traffic!", takes a long swig of their coffee, wipes their mouth on their sleeve, and THEN just keeps going straight thru the intersection while the light has been blatantly red this whole time.
posted by some loser at 3:32 AM on October 23, 2019


I thought (apparently incorrectly?) that the term "to run a red light" implied that one was trying to get thru the intersection BEFORE the light turned red, but failed, and ended up sailing thru the intersection after the light turned red.

Red light cameras in my State have a sensor behind the stop line and another one ahead of it, and they trigger if both of those sensors register a vehicle in quick succession after the light has turned red.

Arguably they should also trigger for drivers dopey enough to enter the intersection on green and get stuck inside it when congestion has stopped all movement downstream, but they don't. If you're past the upstream sensor before the light turns red - not yellow - then there's no ticket in the mail for you.
posted by flabdablet at 3:40 AM on October 23, 2019


THREE SECONDS implies that this person sees the red light, looks around for two and a half seconds thinking "looks clear, no traffic!", takes a long swig of their coffee, wipes their mouth on their sleeve, and THEN just keeps going straight thru the intersection while the light has been blatantly red this whole time.

The driver who recently blew past me and the red light I was stopped at was looking down at a phone. I doubt he'd done anywhere near as much careful situational analysis as you hypothesize.
posted by flabdablet at 3:43 AM on October 23, 2019


> I also think that the fact must be faced that realistically some level of casualties are acceptable. The only way to prevent driving deaths entirely is to destroy cars and the means to produce them,

Why?

I mean yes, there is some amount of casualties and fatalities associated with sitting on the couch and watching TV, typing articles on Metafilter, picking cantaloupes in your garden, washing the lunch dishes, and so on.

But there is no particular reason we should accept a motor vehicle fatality rate higher than those background rates.

So yeah, not zero. But how about 1/10th what is now. How about 1/100th? How about 1/1000th?

Right now, train travel has about 1/18th the fatalities of private motor vehicle driving, bus travel 1/33rd and airplane travel 1/326th.

Those all involve physical forces and speeds at least as fast as driving. So getting fatalities in the range of 1/10th to 1/1000th what they are now is well in the range of possible.

Certainly cutting fatalities by 3/4 is possible. A number of countries are doing that right now.

We know that primary cause of risk from motor vehicle driving--speed. Cut the allowed maximum speed to say 20 mph within populated areas and you would instantly eliminate something like 90% of fatalities and serious injuries in those places.

B-b-b-ut I can't possibly drive at 20mph! you say.

Driving at 20mph maximum for short local trips would retain about 95% or maybe 99% of the value of driving those distances. 75% of trips are 10 miles or less and average speed on those trips is usually less than 20mph right now. So you add maybe 20% to the time of a given trip but you cut the damage it does to society by at least 90%.

That sounds like a pretty good trade-off to me.

Maybe someone should do the cost-benefit analysis: Time lost by driving 20mph maximum on local, short-haul trips vs time and economic losses due to the mayhem caused by our current driving speeds.

Which is more valuable?

I just did a back-of-the-napkin calculation and it is very, very close to a wash.

And that's not even taking into account that the tradeoff is people bored for a few more minutes a day on the one side vs people literally dead and disabled for life on the other side.

And it's not counting for the massive value our cities and towns would regain when wide swaths of land are turned from "traffic sewers" to actual livable neighborhoods.

Or let's put it another way: My 17-year-old daughter walks back and forth to school every day.

About 300 feet from our house is a four-lane trafficway she crosses twice daily. Typical traffic speed there is 40-50mph. Traffic is light, but fast.

In what universe is that reasonable?

It's not any more reasonable to have motor vehicle traffic driving at that speed that close to residential areas and alongside hundreds of people of all ages walking to various destinations around the city--than it would be to have a public shooting range in that same corridor.

"Well you know we have strict limits about when people can shoot, and what direction, and everyone knows you have to wait for the green light to cross the line of fire. A few annual deaths is just the price we pay for the benefit of having a shooting range this close for everyone to use! Plus, most of the people killed were ignoring the rules, which are clearly posted."

Yeah, I just don't buy it.

It's accepted as the norm by society at large, but it is simply not normal.
posted by flug at 5:25 AM on October 23, 2019 [10 favorites]


I wonder how this works in places where the lights are notoriously NOT synchronized *ahembaltimoreahem* and often require sitting a green and gunning it through on a yellow because otherwise you'll block the box. (And if you wait until the next green you still won't be able to get through because the cross traffic will be blocking the box by then.) Then again, Baltimore doesn't really enforce traffic laws to begin with so....
posted by sperose at 6:43 AM on October 23, 2019


Moreover, automated means are entirely useless at enforcing the law in the very circumstances in which the number matters most, since timed school zones and temporary reductions for construction, special events, and such cannot be precomputed and appear, disappear, and change times pretty much at random.

The automated traffic control cameras I'm referring are all linked to the "live" speed limits that apply. The speed limits are digital signboards, and are dynamically controlled to match school pick up / drop of timings, road works, lane closures due to accidents and other incidents. On major highways, the speed limits are also dynamically updated to manage and control traffic flow - eg when the system detects building congestion, it can "throttle" input traffic from other feeders to maintain flow rate, rather than bringing everything to a standstill when you feed too much traffic in at once.

For example if the speed is usually 100kmph and there's an accident ahead, the system can progressively cut the limit to 80kmph then 60kmph then 40kmph as you approach the incident so you don't have people slamming their brakes as they find traffic at a standstill. And the speed limit is absolutely linked to those new posted speeds. I know many people who ignored the "live" speed limits posted and got hit by a massive fine, it's a mistake you make only once.
posted by xdvesper at 2:41 PM on October 23, 2019


Oh yeah, I forgot:

it is believed that at least 200,000 human deaths are attributable to air pollution and at least a quarter are due to transportation. [ref] This compares with the approximate 33,000 from gun deaths or recent average of 35,000 from motor vehicle collisions, which are both also attributable to human technology application. (source)

So we're talking 85,000 deaths in the U.S. annually from automobile driving (50,000 from pollution plus 35,000 from collisions) plus about 10X that amount in serious, debilitating injuries.

But y-a-w-n nothing can be done.

I just don't buy it.

FWIW here it what one city is doing, that really works. Every U.S. city that size (650K) or larger could be doing the same. Or at least, working towards it, which we're not.
posted by flug at 3:43 PM on October 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


Automated enforcement is a thing, so we must do it, rather than use means that are actually proven to slow traffic and reduce fatalities but take more thought than an approach based on punishment. Got it.

Being a human myself, I prefer means that work with our psychology to encourage safe behavior rather than using a crude stick to address our failures of engineering and prioritization.
posted by wierdo at 8:45 PM on October 23, 2019


Flug, thank you so much for how you broke down the human cost.

Weirdo, porque no los dos?

I agree that it’s sort of a dirty trick to give somebody a long straight 12 foot lane and then put a 20mph speed camera on it, but fixing streets with long straight 12 foot lanes is a slow, expensive and politically difficult task. I’m fine with having speed cameras first and then following up with road diets (aka buffets!) that can be sold as helping drivers out so that they won’t get so many tickets.
posted by kevin is... at 9:45 PM on October 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Mainly because enforcement doesn't do much because it's simply too expensive to put cameras literally everywhere, because if there are areas where punishment is inconsistent the bad behavior remains.

It doesn't take wholesale reconstruction or 100% coverage for changes to roads that subliminally encourage drivers to slow down and pay attention and doesn't raise the same reflexive opposition (of the self-interested variety) and opportunity for graft and corruption that long running automated enforcement does.

There are a few places/times when speed and red light cameras make sense, but the current model of long term contracts covering large areas with private companies is completely and permanently broken, usually implemented abusively, and almost universally rooted in bribery and corrupt practices.

Why should we keep doing the thing that seems to always come with a big helping of sleaze when we have alternatives that are more effective and don't implicitly reward the existing, literally criminal, system by giving yet more business to companies that have been shown time and again to conduct their business unethically?
posted by wierdo at 9:19 PM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


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