A Better Use For Traffic Cameras

The technology behind traffic safety cameras has come a long way in recent years. The government-sponsored traffic paparazzi started out as speed-triggered snappers of vehicle mug shots for the purpose of financially punishing the driver in order to make the roads a safer place to be. Allegedly. Then came the red-light cameras. Same story. Rather than generate revenue, it’s about time the cameras were used to actually make the roads safer.

Red-light cameras can now take video footage of the seconds leading up to and including the collisions resulting from some idiot running a red light. This is irrefutable evidence used in court to prosecute said idiot — assuming it’s still alive. The cameras also double as speed cameras and can snap vehicles speeding to get through on the amber.

Technology today is so advanced that the focus can be directed to the actual safety these cameras allegedly promote as well as keeping the evidence-gathering and prosecution tasks of today. These camera systems can be made to intelligently monitor intersections and modify the behaviour of drivers in the event of unusual traffic conditions.

One simple example is to not change the other lights to green if a vehicle is detected approaching a just-turned-red light at such a speed that it won’t stop in time. This should reduce the majority of red light accidents where the vehicle runs the red in the first few seconds after changing.

Even while lights are green, a camera system could detect approaching speeders from the cross road and perhaps rapidly flash the green lights amber until the danger has subsided. Or even initiate a change to red. This would give drivers valuable seconds to take evasive action in case of an approaching red light runner. Now that most traffic signals use LED’s instead of the slow fading incandescent lights this is easily implemented. A rapid flash of 4 to 10 Hz would easily distinguish from the slower amber flash mode used for fault conditions or manual operation used by the police.

Of course there are problems with this approach. Drivers might be shocked and panicked into performing dangerous manoeuvres themselves upon seeing green lights suddenly start flashing rapidly amber. Obviously driver training will be required.

Fast-approaching emergency vehicles would automatically trigger the rapid amber flash and alert, say, earphone-wearing drivers who may not be fully aware of their surroundings, to the  presence of the emergency vehicle which might otherwise be attending their own accident.

I’m surprised this hasn’t been done yet. Would state governments and other responsible agencies go this way? I believe there is a good chance this will help reduce accidents at controlled intersections and even prevent injuries and save lives. Governments can interpret this as saving money if they wish and rest assured they will still maintain their fine revenue.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “A Better Use For Traffic Cameras

  1. Vanessa Chapman

    I do see what you’re saying, but I’m in two minds about it. Would this actually lead to people thinking less and paying attention even less? Would they become dependent on outside forces to tell them what to do so that they don’t have to bother to try and stay alert and make decisions/take action themselves to minimise risks and avoid danger? Would it make those who run red lights feel more confident in doing so, knowing that the lights would hold the traffic back out of their way? I don’t know, it’s certainly an interesting idea that they should explore, if they haven’t already.

    1. Richard Leonard Post author

      I’m actually in two minds as well. I had my engineer’s hat on when I wrote that. It’s certainly technically possible and there are arguments for doing whatever is possible to make the roads safer. However, I’m a big fan of driver education and the law makers and insurance companies have a big influence on how all this is managed. Cars with ABS is another example. Why should a driver learn to brake properly when the car can do it for them? What happens when they drive a car without ABS? (Drivers aren’t taught to brake properly anyway but that’s another story)
      You are correct. It could result in people placing too much trust in external systems causing them to become more complacent. The other issue is how the law would interpret a rapidly flashing amber signal. Will drivers be required to “stop if you can do so safely” or would the rapid flashing mean “It ain’t safe so stop now!”, putting the onus on the innocent driver approaching the green (now panic-amber) to stop.
      This post brewed itself from the suspicion most people have of traffic cameras being used as revenue raisers rather than actual safety devices. This is just one idea to alleviate that suspicion and give cameras a more worth while role in traffic safety. Either that or get rid of them altogether! 🙂


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