Red light camera inventor: The math behind the cameras doesn’t always hold

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Red light camera inventor: The math behind the cameras doesn’t always hold
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There are basically two kinds of people in this world: Those who think red light cameras are there to make driving safer, and those who think the cameras are just there to drive up local government revenue by writing tickets.

Read more: The most bizarre driving laws in all 50 states

Debunking the mathematics behind the red light camera

Oregon resident Mats Järlström is definitely in the latter camp. After his wife got a red light ticket in 2013, Järlström poured over the science behind the vilified cameras.

It turns out the technology was developed based on the work of three GM physicists in the ’60s, Wired reports.

But the only surviving physicist of that group recently told the Institute for Transportation Engineers (ITE) that their mathematical model behind the cameras only holds up in the most basic of driving situations.

“This formula, which we derived, cannot be applied to turning lanes or to any situation where the driver must decelerate within the critical distance,” Alexei Maradudin wrote in a 2015 letter to the ITE.

So…even one of the guys who basically invented the red light camera admits the math behind it has limitations!

But back to Järlström. The Swedish transplant crunched some numbers on his own and presented his mathematical findings about the red light cameras to Oregon’s Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying.

Their response? They shot the messenger. After a two-year investigation, the board hit Järlström with a $500 fee for calling himself an “engineer” without having a license to practice in the state.

Järlström — who earned a degree in electrical engineering in 1980 from the Ebersteinska gymnasium in his native country — believes he’s effectively being muzzled. He wants to share his mathematical findings about the science behind red light cameras, but doing so has made him a target.

Now he’s filed a lawsuit against Oregon’s Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying.

Red light camera tickets are biggest in one state

No matter which side of the great red light camera divide you stand on, this much is clear: The fines are hefty if the camera says you ran a red light.

The website PhotoEnforced.com lists the fines for red light camera violations. You’ll pay about $100 in most states. However, the fine is $490 in California!

There’s another thing about red light cameras that raises people’s ire too. U.S. PIRG reports the cameras are commonly installed by third party private companies that share the revenue from the tickets with local governments.

Even worse, if citizen uproar causes a local government to discontinue use of the cameras, the taxpayers have to pony up huge dollars to essentially break the contract the government made to rip its own citizens in the first place!

The Governors Highway Safety Association says red light cameras are currently active in 24 states and the District of Columbia and 422 communities have the cameras, as of May 2017.

Courtesy of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Click here to read the red light camera laws in your state.

Clark’s take

“Let’s face it, if it really was about safety, the yellow lights would be longer. It’s only about ripping you off as a citizen,” the consumer champ believes.

“Your elected leaders are in cahoots with private business, selling you down the river to score money. And that’s just plain wrong.”

What’s your take?

Read more: Even the safest drivers are getting hit with skyrocketing car insurance costs

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Theo Thimou About the author:
Theo is director of content for clark.com. He has co-written 2 books with Clark Howard, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Clark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times.
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