As citizens, we have certain expectations of our government, regardless of political affiliation or ideology. While there may be some disagreement about the finer nuances of those expectations there are certain generalities that we can agree on. One of the chief expectations that we have of our government at both the state and federal level is a reasonable expectation of public safety. Certainly it would be unrealistic to expect a complete guarantee of safety, but we expect that the government will take reasonable measures to ensure our safety and well-being.
With that expectation in mind, when the government takes steps that seem to place us in jeopardy it seems reasonable to get upset. This is exactly the allegation that is being made against many cities in America, especially the city of Chicago, according to Time Magazine.
The US Department of Transportation recommends that yellow lights at intersections should be between 3 to 6 seconds in length as this amount of time is optimal for allowing drivers to recognize the light change and react safely to that change. If this is the optimal amount of time recommended for safety purposes, then times that are shorter than 3 seconds are arguably unsafe. Therefore, if a city government deliberately shortened a yellow light to less than 3 seconds the argument can be made that they are deliberately putting people at risk and acting contrary to our expectations of reasonable safety.
For what reason would a city government have for putting their citizens at risk? According to the allegations being leveled; pure profit. In many cities the fines for running a red light are larger than the fines for speeding. In the case of Chicago, a red-light ticket carries a fine of $100. After secretly shortening the length of some of the lights the city issued 77,000 additional red light tickets and brought in more than $8 million dollars in fines, according to Time.
The question of the efficacy of the red light cameras as a safety measure is mixed. According to a study by the IIHS, the scientific research shows mixed results of the cameras. Although they were intended to increase safety by acting as a deterrent, they have not produced significantly demonstrable results to this effect. But, what is becoming clear is that the popularity of red light cameras is on the rise, and with cities potentially set to bring in millions of dollars in revenue by using them, it’s easy to see why. The question that needs to be answered is: are our city governments putting us at risk in order to turn a profit? Are they mortgaging our collective safety in order to balance the budget?