The San Fernando Valley man recently received a ticket just shy of $400 after allegedly running a red light at a busy San Bernardino intersection. The problem, however, was with the traffic signal, not Chacon’s driving or failure to stop.
“I’m feeling that I got a ticket for no reason,” Chacon tells the IE Weekly. Now, city officials—who weren’t even aware there was a problem with the traffic signal until Chacon brought it to their attention—are faced with dismissing hundreds of red-light tickets because the yellow light for the signal at N. Mt. Vernon Avenue and W. 9th Street wasn’t set correctly for roughly two months.
This Inland Empire case underscores the ongoing debate over the use of red-light cameras, with one camp claiming they are useful in reducing accidents and another pointing to the inexactitude of the technology, with innocent drivers being issued traffic tickets. The latter camp also contends that red-light cameras are installed to generate extra revenue.
This case arises at a time when more and more Inland cities are spending hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to install these traffic safety tools. Of course, no one denies that running red lights is a major problem that can lead to accidents and deaths. But the cameras are fraught with issues, some say.
“I think that [red-light cameras] can have a benefit, but I don’t see many cities operating them in a fashion that seems to be mostly for safety,” says the editor for www.highwayrobbery.net, a website that offers free advice and information about red-light camera tickets.
Case in point: The signal at Mt. Vernon and 9th.
Chacon, of Sun Valley, says he was attending a Teamsters driving school on Oct. 11 to upgrade his license when he, accompanied by his instructor, began driving the school’s 53-foot-long truck and trailer around the area in the early afternoon to get accustomed to driving on surface streets. Chacon was heading northbound on Mt. Vernon and says he slowed down as he approached the intersection, which had a green light. Chacon says he took his foot off the brake and stepped on the gas to proceed through the intersection—and it was at that instant that the signal changed to yellow, then quickly to red. The driver said it was too late to stop, lest he cause an accident.
“You never slam the brakes on an empty trailer,” he says. “The trailer will lock up and swing around.”
Chacon says he suspected the yellow signal was shorter than usual but then dismissed the incident until the driving school received a red-light citation for $391. Suspecting something wasn’t right, Chacon returned to the signal and using a stopwatch and, later, a video camera, he timed the yellow light and determined that it lasted for 3.1 seconds.
According to state transportation guidelines, yellow lights are supposed to last at least 3.6 seconds.
Chacon alerted city officials to the discrepancy and it turns out that the problem had existed since the signal was operational on Sept. 25, San Bernardino Police Sgt. Jarrod Burguan says. While the error was literally a split-second one, the end result is that hundreds of motorists ended up ticketed for running red lights when they probably shouldn’t have. The city fixed the signal Nov. 18, the sergeant says.
“I believe that all those tickets, more than likely, are unfair,” Burguan says.
Burguan adds he did not have a specific number of how many tickets were issued between Sept. 25 and Nov. 18 but says the camera generates “several hundred” tickets per month.
According to a city news release, over 1,200 motorists were issued warning notices during a 30-day warning period when cameras were first introduced to that intersection in August.
Burguan says police will work with the courts to have the suspect citations dismissed.
“We realized that there were some citations that are being dismissed because it’s the right thing to do and it’s the legal thing to do,” he says.
San Bernardino city officials first authorized the use of red light cameras in May 2005, city records show. The stated goal was to reduce accidents and injuries caused by motorists running red lights. The city’s first camera, at Waterman Avenue and Hospitality Lane, began operation in August of that same year. Eventually the city, which has cameras at five intersections currently, will expand to 11 intersections, Burguan says.
Such cameras are fast becoming a trend in the Inland Empire. Last month, Corona voted to spend as much as $350,000 to install cameras at five intersections. Moreno Valley, Redlands, Upland, Riverside and Yucaipa all have such cameras.
And while some cities, including San Bernardino, cite their effectiveness at decreasing accidents, the use of cameras is not without its share of critics.
“Don’t assume the city has their act together,” the highwayrobbery.net editor says.
–Roberto C. Hernandez