Smile for the Camera

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Driving while on your phone or, worse, texting, gets all the bad press right now.

And with good reason. Those are dangerous...and stupid..things to do.

But for my money, the worst driving offense that doesn't involve alcohol is racing through a red light.

Speeding into an intersection after the light changes... when the people starting into their green cycle are a criminally low move.

You know how everybody has a fear in the back of their mind about how they're going to go if their number gets called early?

Mine used to be as the victim of a crime. A robbery gone bad or some crazed gang shooter.

But then LA became a safer place. And I became convinced my violent end would be to get creamed by a red light runner.

That's why I had an open mind about the introduction of red light cameras around LA.

It seemed a little like over-thinking the problem. After all, high profile LAPD enforcement might have achieved the same results.

But I thought, well, if they work and they don't become just another trick to shift money into the pockets of the politically connected, maybe cameras would be a good idea.

Gradually, though, the evidence has mounted that red light cameras don't deliver on their promise.

The biggest thing is that they mostly don't catch the kind of red-light runners I'm talking about. The flagrant violators who trigger high speed, deadly accidents.

Instead, they tend to nab people who cheat a little on the orange. Or, more by far, drivers who roll slowly through a red light on their way into a right turn.

That's a clear infraction too. I've got no argument with drivers getting a ticket for rolling stops.

But cameras are overkill if that's all we're doing. Stopping illegal turns.


An audit this week by LA City Controller Wendy Greuel found other problems. The 32 intersections that have cameras were chosen for political efficiency, not because they're the most dangerous corners.

Driving hasn't become safer because of the cameras, at least that can be proven. And they cost the city's budget.

They're a net loss, despite the high fine attached to red light running, or in practice, rolling right turns. Something like 450 bucks.

Almost half the people who receive tickets in the mail after having their picture taken never pay them.

That's more than just an issue of scofflaws.

It's a sign that, as a society, we aren't really buying into this idea of using cameras to catch marginally bad drivers.

This week, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a move to soften the fines for rolling turns. For now, the cameras can still sock a worker with a fine taking a week's pay.

This all probably sounds like the rant of someone who recently got a ticket. On that, I'm clean. The only moving ticket I've received in 20 years or so was for speeding, on a highway in the Mojave Desert.

No cameras needed. The CHP officer had me dead to rights.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.