Oregon’s Red Light Running Cameras

Oregonian electronics nerd Mats Järlström was recently fined $500 by the Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering. Järlström has developed and collaborated on mathematical research suggesting red light running (RLR) cameras in Oregon and most of the country often wrongfully capture people turning right as the light changes—though turning right on red is legal in most instances.

Järlström points compellingly to an increase in traffic tickets issued in Beaverton to the tune of well over 4,000 a year since the installation of RLR systems. Because he is not a certified engineer, the Board of Examiners has slapped him in the mouth, pointing to potential violations of ORS 672.007 and 672.005. However, given his history working on cameras for the Swedish Airforce and owning an audio repair company in Oregon while calibrating different test equipment on the side, there’s a chance that Järlström is right.

In February of this year, Beaverton issued a report to the legislature evaluating the effectiveness of their red light camera systems. The mandatory report concluded that red light running-related crashes and injuries have decreased since the program began in 2001. Furthermore, it determined that red light running violations have decreased by 36% in the time frame.

However, this doesn’t account for the addition of right turn on red violations, which were approved by Beaverton’s City Council in 2010 and implemented in 2011. Here is where it starts getting weird. After a 31-day warning period and sending out 362 warning letters for the entire city, right turn on red enforcement began.

As written in the report, “It is typical to see an increase in the number of violations during the initial implementation of red light enforcement, but the numbers are expected to decrease over time as drivers become aware of the right turn on red enforcement and are reminded that ‘Red Means Stop’ in Beaverton.”

Believe it or not, the report goes on to say that since 2012, the city has seen an average change in violations of -1.6%—a decrease in violations. This number was derived by subtracting 13,526 from 13,317, dividing the result by 13,526 and multiplying by 100. This is a simple percent increase equation.

The number 13,317 represents an average number of violations between 2013 and 2016, while 13,526 is the total number of violations in 2012 alone. Makes sense, right? Not really, and here is why…

In 2011, the year enforcement began, we have 9,369 right turn on red violations. This number was not included in the calculation because it was skewed. As written in the report, “In 2011 it was discovered that one red light intersection did not have detection loops to enforce the right turn on red violations, this was corrected in July 2012.”

However, the total number of violations for 2013 through 2016 are 12,870, 10,600, 14,558, and 15,239 respectively. Notice in 2014 violations drop to 10,600. The report states, “In 2014 a decrease in violations is due to equipment down time from storm damage and a separate third party software glitch.”

In other words, the number of violations in 2014 is arguably more skewed than in 2011, yet it is still included in the calculation. So if we rerun the calculation either including violations in 2011 or excluding 2014, we have a much different result: if we average violations in 2011 and 2012 and run the same equation, we get 16.33—which is an increase. If we omit both skewed years, 2011 and 2014, we get 5.15, which is also an increase.

According to Drivinglaws.org, running a red light in Oregon carries a maximum fine of $300, but that number may vary by county and/or change over time.

The website goes on to say, “In some cases, it has been discovered that municipalities have deliberately shortened the duration of yellow lights in order to increase the odds of running the light (and ratcheting up the town’s traffic enforcement revenue). If you want to make this claim, you should time the duration of the yellow light to see if it differs substantially from other nearby yellow lights.”

Check my math and view Beaverton’s report yourself: www.oregonlegislature.gov/citizen_engagement/Reports/Legislative%20Report%20Red%20Light%202017.pdf. PS: I’m not an engineer.

By Anthony Vitale

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