Timing is Everything

February 3, 2009

I smile as the traffic light at the intersection of Summit and Cherry in Downtown Toledo turns yellow.   They say “timing’s everything” and my travel pattern to work each day is so predictable,  it happens nearly every day.   And every day I slow down in anticipation of the red light that follows.    If you ask me “Do you stop because you know there are cameras at the intersection that will catch you if you run the red?”  I would answer honestly, “Yes.”   Of course, once in awhile, my timing’s off just a bit.   “Yellow?  Oooooh…do I stop or go through?  Am I traveling fast enough to get through before it turns red?  AAARRRGH!”   Once in awhile I just KNOW one of those close calls will result in me getting one of those tickets in the mail with a picture of my car going through the intersection as the light turns red.   So far (knock on wood) I haven’t received one.   But I approach that intersection every day knowing that my actions are my responsibility and if in a split-second decision my timing is off, that regrettable piece of mail may show up in my box. 

Toledo was the first Midwestern city to install the cameras at select intersections,  and it’s hard to argue against their effectiveness.  Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre will show you statistics that show a 20% drop in accidents at those camera intersections.   He calls it a safety issue.     

A group from Cincinnati calls it a money issue.  The “Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes” or “COAST,”  wants to rescind the red-light cameras in Toledo.   The group is collecting signatures to put the issue on the ballot…and let’s face it…anyone who’s ever received one of those tickets would probably jump at the chance to vote them out.    But why?   COAST contends the cameras don’t in fact make intersections safer…and the organization resents the “Big Brother” mentality of being issued a ticket when a police officer isn’t there in person to witness the infraction. 

But let’s face it:  officers aren’t usually witnesses to crimes.  They’re not present when a thug kills a carry-out clerk, or when a rapist crawls through a window and attacks a woman as she sleeps.   Yet…we expect…no…we DEMAND that they catch those criminals and put them in prison based on evidence they gather after the crime has been committed.    So what’s the difference?

I think the difference is, we’ve all been guilty of running a red light, or driving over the speed limit.   There is a certain liberation in seeing a trooper who’s stopped someone ELSE on the side of the road when my speedometer gives me up as a scofflaw.   They can’t catch EVERY speeder, so my chances are pretty good, right?  None of us wants to get a ticket;  it’s annoying and embarrassing whether it comes in the mail or whether we’re stopped on the side of the road by an officer.   

But I think I’d rather get the ticket through the mail.   For one thing, it takes a lot less time to open the envelope than it does to wait for the officer to run your plate and run your license number and fill out the paperwork when you were clearly speeding because you were running late in the first place.     Sure, the red light cameras can cost you money, but they don’t cost points against your driver’s license which is a plus.  Best of all:  the officer who may have been assigned to my particularly dangerous intersection or stretch of road can actually be assigned to a much more serious crime.  

I know there are people who believe the cameras make mistakes.   Maybe they do.   But there are plenty of people who have lost loved ones at those intersections who would argue that human error–or bad judgment–is much more risky.     

Will COAST get the signatures necessary to put the issue on the ballot in November?   We’ll have to wait and see.  Will I vote to take them down?  Probably not.  Unless, of course I get a red-light camera citation in the mail a week before the election.   After all, timing is everything.



  1. Hi Chrys. I’ve gotten one of those camera tickets. I really believe that my car has a sign on it that says ” if you are a traffic camera TAKE MY PICTURE”.
    It seems that I can be making the turn, the light turns yellow and someone in front of me decides to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n for a piece of paper that crossed in front of her or him and of course I’m still in the middle of the intersection. My car starts to pose for the camera. Yea, that was a good one. All I can do is start saving up for the hefty fine. There are times that I do try to time the light and look ahead but haven’t mastered it yet.
    I know that these lights have helped reduce traffic accidents and no doubt saved many lives. Thats the only reason I’m not rallying around the idea of getting rid of them. I just would like my car to stop acting like it’s in the running for America’s Next Top Model. She’s 12 years old and she doesn’t look all that great any more. If we could get store cameras to be that clear we could catch a lot more criminals.

  2. I honestly thought that the red light cameras would cause more accidents when they were first put in because drivers would be so focused on whether to slam on their brakes or floor it to make the light. I have caught myself slowing down at a green light in anticipation that it might turn yellow right as I am going through! It’s good to hear that the accident rate is down at these intersections and that its not all about money like I thought it would be. Honestly, these cameras have become a part of everyday life for me, they make me more cautious at intersections and they make me pay attention to my speed as well. So far I haven’t gotten a ticket, I would like to think thats because I’m a good driver, not because I’m “being watched”….but its probably a little of both! I don’t love the cameras but if they make the roads even a little bit safer, I vote to keep them!

  3. Ha ha ha! That’s hilarious, Chris! I have a friend who feels the same way. I think he’s received 4 tickets in the past 18 months or two years. Thanks for the laugh! 🙂

  4. I totally agree with you. I think the cameras keep us on our toes. I know it does me. It seems that the people who don’t want them seem to feel that they have a right to run the red light if they want to and should be able to get away with it if there is no one to physically catch them. Everyone needs to pay attention while they are driving and remember that their actions can affect others if they don’t.

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