Saturday, June 5, 2010

More Red Light Info

Following up on my initial tirade (which if you haven’t read, I suggest you do to avoid confusion) about the red-light camera ticket, I now have more information to provide. I did some research, and it appears I may have been somewhat misinformed about some parts of the situation, but given what I found, I’m surely not the only one. First off, I’ll make some clarifications. The ‘red’ line from the first post should be indentified as the ‘prolongation of curb’. This is the imaginary line from one side of the intersection to the other, as indicated by the end of the curb. However, for red light camera intersections in Tucson, this line does serve a purpose: This is the legal stopping line for the intersection. There’s a problem with that, which I will describe in a moment.

(Prepare yourself, this one’s a long one!)

Being so infuriated by this situation as I am, I looked up everything I could find on the issue, and came up with a number of interesting bits of information, from another Tucson citizen hit by one of these cameras who chose to fight the ticket in court, to the federal agency with authority over all the the public roads and highways in the nation - the U.S. Dept of Transportation; Federal Highway Administration. I’ll introduce you to these, then add my own feedback.

First, Dianne Patterson, a resident of Tucson, AZ like myself, got flashed running a red light at the intersection of River and Oracle on the northwest side of the city. She went to fight it and sent a letter (DOC) to the FHWA asking for confirmation that the traffic control setup at the intersection was legal. They had this (PDF) to say in response. (In short, there are no rules that explicitly say this prolongation line is illegal or non-compliant, but the agency still disapproved of the setup.) Patterson then took this information to local news sources, who broadcast the story outward. Unfortunately, when the time came to rule on the case, a local judge deemed the commentary from the FHWA irrelevant, and Dianne was found responsible, though at this time, she intends to appeal.

The disturbing piece about her specific case is the exact circumstances of the alleged violation. Remember I mentioned that the prolongation line being designated as the legal stopping point posed a problem? Here’s why: In my previous post I started to point out that the AZDOT driver training manual makes only minor references to the prolongation line, and only in conjunction with information about the various types of intersections a driver may encounter. (See illustration below) Generally speaking, the prolongation line is only a valid stopping point when no other markings are present, according to the manual. (Though I must point out that even in some cases, this line is not mentioned – check the image yourself!)

Despite this information – provided by the supposed authority – Patterson (and I as well) was in violation for crossing the prolongation line, but if you ask me, it would be less prudent and more dangerous to have adhered to this rule. Looking at the next image, though the white Prius (Patterson’s vehicle) is behind the line at the time the photo was taken, it also appears to be well into the intersection. It had moved beyond the crosswalk, the near-side signal light pole, and the median curb altogether. I would personally feel very uncomfortable out that far at a stop, and it may very well also be distracting for the alternate traffic about to enter the intersection. If the intent of the law is truly to keep those on the road safer and not simply to make money, then the decision to make the stop in this image a legal stop is not really in line with that intent.


The FHWA maintains a document referred to as the “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices” or “MUTCD”, which is what the letter in response was based on. The most current MUTCD, in the very introduction of the document (section 07), states that:

The U.S. Secretary of Transportation, under authority granted by the Highway Safety Act of 1966,
decreed that traffic control devices on all streets and highways open to public travel in accordance with
23 U.S.C. 109(d) and 402(a) in each State shall be in substantial conformance with the Standards issued
or endorsed by the FHWA.

In my mind, along with others in the FHWA itself, the Tucson lines are not in ‘substantial conformance’, but there is (obviously) no real recourse for it. The MUTCD document goes on (Part I, Section 94, Page 15 for those looking) to describe an intersection as follows:

94. Intersection—intersection is defined as follows:
(a) The area embraced within the prolongation or connection of the lateral curb lines, or if
none, the lateral boundary lines of the roadways of two highways that join one another at, or
approximately at, right angles, or the area within which vehicles traveling on different highways
that join at any other angle might come into conflict.
(b) …
(c) …
(d) …
(e) At a location controlled by a traffic control signal, regardless of the distance between the
separate intersections as defined in (c) and (d) above:
(1) …
(2) Where a stop line, yield line, or crosswalk is designated on the roadway on the intersection
approach, the area within the crosswalk and/or beyond the designated stop line or yield line
shall be part of the intersection; and
(3) Where a crosswalk is designated on a roadway on the departure from the intersection, the
intersection shall include the area extending to the far side of such crosswalk.

Apparently the City of Tucson doesn’t care. Too bad for us, huh?


Based on all that was stated above, I shouldn’t even need to defend myself for my alleged violation, but I said I would continue on with my own case, so here goes…Thanks to the magic of Google Maps, I was able to get some images of the intersection which help further explain why I was not in violation, even taking the less-than-valid prolongation line rule into consideration. First, here’s the intersection in question in full view:Street1 My right-hand turn was made coming from the left (West) side, turning down (South). I used this image to help identify the current prolongation lines. These happen to be pretty accurately marked, so the city is not at fault for mis-striping the intersection. At the time this particular image was taken, the lines for the South side had not yet been painted; they since have been. However, if you look at how far back the traffic sits from the intersection, you’ll notice that there are multiple car lengths between the stop in traffic and the prolongation line. I find it very funny that, although the city is citing me for crossing the prolongation line, every driver here seems to believe/understand that the stop line is the correct and valid stopping place, and thus nobody has travelled fully beyond it.

The next image highlights specifically the prolongation lines for the West and South sides of the intersection, and you should be able to see that line running North-South line has been painted appropriately.


An interesting feature of the intersection can be seen while using the prolongation lines as a basis for defining the area within the intersection. That is, when using these lines, there is a dead space at each of the four corners (of this intersection) anyway, which I’m not able to indentify as being inside or outside of the actual intersection. Had the intersection been defined based on the national standard of the stop line and/or crosswalk, there would be no ambiguous space around the intersection.

Next is a close-up of the same highlights as above, but focusing on the corner at which I made my turn – a corner of such dead space.


Here, you can see the discoloration of the asphalt where normal traffic flows regularly around this corner (and everywhere else on the road as well) and that the discoloration actually lives completely within that dead space. This means one of two things: Either the dead space is not legally within the intersection and the turn cannot be in violation because one must enter the intersection to run the red light, or else the dead space is within the intersection, in which case I was already in it when the picture was taken. Under either circumstance, I would have not been in violation.

Additionally, again assuming the laws truly are intended to increase safety, I would certainly have been in violation had I cause – or nearly caused – a collision. I didn’t, so it’s not a case where the law actually would have helped increase safety or prevent an accident. I realize that if someone simple chose to pull through a red light because there was no traffic coming would be in violation, that particular scenario is not the same as mine. There was no intent for me to run the red light and I was not just trying to push through as fast as I could to beat it. Rather, I thought that I had entered the intersection, as did probably any other driver there that day who saw me make this turn (remember the traffic stopped behind the stop line?). It’s also different because in my example, there would be a clear entrance into a well-defined intersection space (even given the poor Tucson rules), whereas I entered an area that is arguably not in the intersection at all.

I still plan on fighting this if taken to court over it, but wonderful Arizona law states that I waive my right to defer judgment/penalty if I do. See, I haven’t been to defensive driving school within the past two years, so I would normally be eligible, upon admission of responsibility, to take this course. By doing so, I would avoid paying the fines (still have to pay for the class, which is usually about as much, depending on the violation) and prevent accruing any points on my driving record. However, as I just said, by going to court, if a judge still finds in favor of the state, I will be deemed responsible but will not be able to take the defensive driving course to clear the points. The problem with this is, as with the Patterson case, the judicial system here seems to favor profit over fairness – and ultimately safety on the streets - and I fear the judge will refuse to see the points I’ve made within these posts. If it comes to that, wish me some serious luck.

If I do happen to lose the battle, I will adopt a new behavior: I will gladly stop behind the stop line as usual when I hit a red light at one of these camera-monitored intersections. But then I will pull up to the prolongation line after a moment and wait for my green light before continuing further. I would love for someone to give me a ticket for that – for driving beyond the crosswalk/stop line on red; then I would really raise hell with this case as precedence.

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