Red Light, Yellow Light: Red-light citations plummet in Arnold

Motorists driving along roadways maintained by the Missouri Department of Transportation could receive fewer red-light camera tickets if preliminary reports from Arnold hold true statewide.

Beginning in February, MoDOT began changing the yellow-light signal times throughout Arnold. In general, the change to the signals has lengthened the amount of time the light stays yellow.

For example, motorists traveling southbound through the intersection of Highway 141 and Astra Way now have 1.6 seconds more yellow time — from 4 seconds to 5.6 seconds. MoDOT has also changed the length of time that all signals at an intersection appear red, giving more time to clear the intersection before someone gets a green.

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In so doing, MoDOT has triggered an unintended consequence — the number of red-light runners caught by photo enforcement in Arnold has plummeted.

In January, the city issued 691 red-light camera citations. By March, the number of citations had plunged to 263. And last month, the vendor that operates Arnold's red-light cameras — American Traffic Solutions — confirms that it issued just 198 citations. That's a drop of 72 percent from January.

Tom Blair, MoDOT's assistant engineer for the St. Louis region, says that he doesn't anticipate other cities seeing such steep declines once MoDOT finishes changing all its signal speeds across the state. For starters, although all Arnold's red-light cameras happen to be on roadways controlled by MoDOT, that's not the case in most cities. In St. Louis, just over half of the city's 25 intersection with red-light cameras are along MoDOT controlled roadways.

Plus, Blair says, "in Arnold, the speed limit on the roads with these cameras is also higher than what you'd have in most places, including St. Louis," he says. "For example, the speed limit on Highway 141 in Arnold is 60 miles per hour, and thus the need for a longer yellow."

MoDOT is changing the signal speeds based on national standards that take into consideration actual driving speeds (not the posted speed limit) and other factors.

"Unfortunately drivers are a lot more distracted these days with cell phones, GPS, satellite radio, etc.," says Blair. "And they're also driving faster, which can necessitate the need for a longer yellow and longer all-red to make sure the intersection is safe and clear."

Charles Territo, the spokesman for American Traffic Solutions, says that his company is "pleased" with the reduced number of violations in Arnold, which became the first Missouri city to install red-light cameras in 2005.

But Territo doesn't give the longer yellow sole credit for the drop in citations. He suggests that the cameras themselves have played a role in curbing unsafe driving.

"Fewer violations means that driver behavior is changing and that the unsafe driving practices that increase the likelihood of collisions are decreasing," says Territo.

But Doris Borgelt, an Arnold council member who was elected to office in April, says she was shocked to see the reduction in red-light citations after requesting the information from the police department. She says her colleagues on the council have turned a deaf ear to her findings and recently considered placing a fifth city intersection under red-light camera surveillance.

Borgelt passed her findings on to Matt Hay, a vocal opponent of the cameras who, as an Arnold councilman from 2008 to 2010, tried to rid the city of its contract with the photo-enforcement company. Since leaving the council, Hay has created the website WrongOnRed.com, which criticizes the use of the cameras.

"Since the number of citations in Arnold had doubled from the first full year that these cameras were installed through the end of last year, it raises the question on what is the effective means of making roads safer," he says. "Is it cameras — or proper engineering of traffic signals? The results seem to indicate the latter, but then that doesn't generate any revenue through tickets."

 
 
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