The Scam

Table of Contents

  1. Fraud Scheme
  2. Psychology of the Scam
  3. Decision Traps
  4. Violators vs Non-Violators


Fraud Scheme


Red light camera enforcement is a type of fraud called charlatanism. A charlatan is a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception. A charlatan resorts to quackery, pseudo science, or some knowingly employed bogus means of impressing people in order to swindle his victims by selling them worthless nostrums or services that will not deliver on the promises made for them. The word charlatan calls forth the image of an old-time medicine show operator, who has long since left town by the time the people who bought his snake oil or similarly name tonic realize that it does not perform as advertised.

The charlatans are the red light camera companies.

The bogus means of impressing people is videos of cars crashing into each other, which everyone must admit is both dramatic and impressive.

The nostrum is the red light camera itself.

The promise not delivered is that red light cameras modify driver behavior in order to prevent crashes.

Misdirected Purpose

1. Right off the bat the medicine show operator introduces a red-herring. A red-herring is a misleading statement meant to distract you from the real purpose of the object of sale. Red light cameras measure red light running, not crashing. In the field of traffic engineering, red light running and crashing are apples and oranges. One exists without the other. As a demonstration, imagine an intersection that is a 4-way stop that has 4 steady red lights instead of stop signs. At our imaginary intersection everyone runs red lights but no one crashes. The same affect can be achieved to a matter of degree with normal traffic signals. An engineer turns a normal traffic signal more and more into a 4-way stop the more and more he shorts the yellow and lengthens the all-red clearance intervals. By design a traffic engineer does this daily. He increases red light running but still keeps everyone safe. Which brings us to . . .

2. While traffic engineers concern themselves with safety, they could care less about the legal movement of traffic. This is an eye opener.

A traffic engineer's primary goal for highway design is efficient flow of traffic. His second goal is the safety of motorists. His seventh goal on his list of goals is the legal motion of traffic. To achieve the first goal, traffic engineers sacrifice the other goals. The most common tactic to attain the goal of flow is for the engineer to shorten yellows. Shorter yellows mean that drivers see more green during the course of a day. Traffic is "going" more instead of slowing down. When an engineer is faced with a highway surpassing its capacity, it is much cheaper for him to shorten yellows than adding a lane.

The traffic engineer's strategy is no different than the computer gamer's. A gamer will over clock his computer to order to get more speed, yet he knows that more speed will cause intermittent glitches in Microsoft Word. The gamer rather game fast than Word process and so he opts to live with the glitches. The difference in our traffic scenario is that when the traffic engineer over clocks the highway, tens of thousands of drivers get a $50 ticket and some drivers crash who would not have crashed before.

Misdirected Cause

The medicine show operator wants everyone to believe that it is the driver driving badly which causes crashes. He very much wants to take your attention away from traffic engineering--the real cause. Not only by design does the traffic engineer want drivers to run red lights, but also by mistake.

All over the world, traffic engineers get the math wrong in a simple physics formula which determines the length of yellow lights. This results in making the yellow light too short by up to 4.5 seconds. For a left turn where the driver slows from 45 mph to 20 mph, the federal guidelines will give the driver from 3 to 4.5 seconds of yellow. But by the laws of physics, the driver needs at least 5.4 seconds. Drivers must have the 5.4 seconds. No one can overpower the laws of physics. The engineer forces the driver to run a red light. As the driver slows from the speed limit, the slower his target intersection entry speed, the more "into the red" the engineer will force him to enter the intersection. In the most extreme type of decelerating movement, the U-turn, the engineer can force a driver to enter the intersection 4.4 seconds after the light turns red. People watching the late-arriving driver think that the driver is a horrendous scofflaw. But he is not! The engineer is the scofflaw and at worst a murderer. Causing people to enter the intersection this far into red means conflicting traffic has already received the right-of-way for a couple of seconds.

We have been living and dying by engineering malpractice for 55 years. Nobody thought anything of it until now. The reason there is a big stink now is because cities dispense red light camera tickets to their entire populations within a few years. That has provoked sufficient anger in a sufficient number of people to raise suspicion and incite revolt. Everyone getting tickets should raise a red flag. Is everyone a criminal? Is everyone that bad of a driver? Is the entire city of Chicago (population 2.7 million) criminals twice over? The amount of money cameras pull in continuously is empirical proof that cameras do not deliver on their promise. If red light cameras worked as billed, then there would not be a continuous supply of money or crashes. But the money flows regularly. And the crashes only transmute from right-angle to rear-enders. The camera does modify behavior but not as the vendor would like the city to think. The camera induces panic. Safe drivers can only trade one evil for another. From beat the light to slam on the brakes.

Red light cameras are what they are. The old-time medicine show operator's snake oil.

Confidence Game

The red light camera industry plays a Confidence Game. A Confidence Game is a fraud scheme where the Perpetrator gains the confidence of the Mark to defraud the Mark in some way. Perfect Confidence Games are so effective that Marks do not report them to the authorities for fear of looking foolish or because the game involved something unlawful.

A Shill is a person in the Confidence Game that acts as a participant to draw in the Mark. A Shill is an Accomplice--one who is paid to play as part of the Swindle. Derived from casino gambling, where the shill is a paid employee used to attract other gamblers.

The Perpetrator is the red light camera company.

The Mark is the driver.

The Shill is the city. At first the city is the Mark, but the city turns into a Shill.

When the Mark catches the Shill in its game; for example, the driver catching the city trying to cover up its yellow light timing mistakes, the city will not admit its mistakes because it fears looking foolish and because it no longer has the money to make restitution. 95% of the money the city swindled from the driver the city has already passed on to the red light camera company. Therefore the city will use all its legal weight, including tactics expected only from corrupt corporations, to fight the driver. To save face in the public eye and to avoid restitution it can't pay, the city will perpetuate the fraud for as long as it can any way it can. The city does take on risk. If sued, for every red light camera ticket the city gives out, the city digs itself a deeper hole.

Factors of Fraud

1. People blame drivers for running red lights. People are either self-deprecating blaming themselves for not doing a better job at trying to stop, or people are self-righteous blaming others who run a red light as reckless. This factor provides the control weakness for red light camera companies to commit the fraud.

So long as people believe drivers are the party responsible, the Swindle can continue. The red light camera company commits quackery by diagnosing the driver and prescribing to him a red light camera. That prescription does not work, as proven by the continuous influx of red light camera money.


2. Traffic engineers use pseudo science to time yellow lights. The unusual thing about the red light camera scam is that the red light camera company doesn't even have to devise its own pseudo science to start the Swindle. The traffic engineer has already done that for him.


Psychology of the Scam

To keep people from suspecting that it is the engineer's fault, the red light camera industry reinforces people's presumption: blame the drivers. Two acts of fraud serve to this end:

1. Post dramatic crash videos. The sole purpose is to instill fear of bad drivers in the hearts of the marks. The fraud (a mistatement to secure payment) is that crashes are caused by one of two things: a drunk driver who a camera would never stop, or bad engineering. As for the latter, any crash happening within about 4.5 seconds of the light turning red is the engineer's fault.

2. Present before/after camera studies. A before/after study is science fraud. The kind of study that is supposed to happen is called a forensic analysis. As opposed to the before/after study, a forensic analysis follows the scientific method and seeks the cause of crashes. A before/after study presumes the cause is bad driving. The presumption is false from the start. Engineers know that dozens of engineering factors significantly contribute to crash rates. To presume to blame drivers is an ethics violation. To perform an analysis without the scientific method is also a violation of the State's laws for professional engineers. Professional engineers must comply with the physical sciences.

It does not matter who is performing the before/after study. Any one who does one, whether the police, the DOT, a large engineering firm like AECOM or SRF, or a unversity professor, commits science fraud. It is that obvious.


Decision Traps

A decision trap is an engineering term. A decision trap is a device placed in your path that pushes you to respond in a specific direction in order to achieve the covert purpose of the trapper. The red light camera laws are a gauntlet of decision traps. The purpose of the traps is to maximize profit of the red light camera company while getting no complaints from you. The psychology is to make defending yourself not worth your while. The path of least resistance is to give up and pay. All traps operate to this end.

1. The first decision trap comes in the untimely arrival of the ticket--a week after the alleged event. Do you remember running a red light? Are you going to trust a video that says you did? In the absence of engineering knowledge, you will most likely trust the video, condemn yourself and pay the $50. The trap worked. But if you feel like challenging the ticket, then . . .

2. The second decision trap is that the town turned a criminal offense into a civil penalty. There are no court costs and no insurance points. The penalty is $50. Though this seems like a good deal, it is a decision trap. You now have to decide whether it is financially worth challenging the ticket. Since the civil fine is only $50 and 0 points, is it worth taking time off from work to challenge the ticket? 99% of the accused stop here. You pay. The red light camera company gets it money, and no one hears a challenge. The trap worked.

3. The third trap is whether you are willing to pay $50 to buy a hearing. The price of the hearing so happens to be the cost of the ticket. So if you are going to send $50 to the town, you effectively just paid. You lost what little equity you have. Why challenge the town to retrieve the $50? They already have it. The third trap worked.

4. The fourth decision trap is that the administrative panel is a kangaroo court. So why try to defend yourself? They will condemn you no matter what. Though it is their legal obligation to present a preponderance of evidence proving your guilt, they will force upon you the obligation to prove your innocence. It is a perverse twist of law. At best your admin panelists have is an incomplete video. It is a video that conveniently restricts itself to evidence showing only your guilt. The video shows your car, the traffic signal and about 30 feet of roadway up and downstream from the intersection. The video does not show what has happened 400 feet up and downstream from the intersection but pertinent things happen there which would establish your innocence. For example 1) a car cuts in front of you because he is coming out of a business. His action will force you to slow down. Your slower average speed extends the time it takes you to reach the intersection. If you already travelled past your safe and comfortable stopping point when you had to tap your brakes, that can force you to run a red light. 2) An ambulance coming up behind you will make you get out of the way. You go forwards but you run a red light. 3) The traffic signal is forever red. You are stuck there waiting for nothing. You go. You run a red light. 4) A train trestle blocks your view of the traffic signal for several seconds upstream from intersection. During this time, the signal turns yellow. By the time you emerge out from under the trestle, you are too close to the intersection and the light turns red. You run the red light.

None of these things are in the field of view or time span of the red light camera company's video--on purpose.

The kangaroos on the panel are city employees whose vested interest is to see you convicted. Sewer plant operators, truck drivers, accountants and if you are lucky (not), police officers. Absolutely none of them have knowledge of the red light camera laws, the rules of evidence, engineering or physics or the courage to stand up for what is right. They don't know what a traffic signal plan is. They don't know what a yellow light means. They do not know what the MUTCD is. They do not know the engineering specification of the DOT, and certainly do not know whether those specs comply with State statutes for professional engineers. Your kangaroos neither know the laws by which to measure your obedience, nor do they know the laws by which to measure the city's obedience. The kangaroos are paid by your accuser. And to top it off, the kangaroos take orders from Redflex. Reflex commands the city employees to "limit defenses to 5 minutes, and hand over all decisions to Redflex and Redflex will make sure the driver gets the verdict."

Even if you took pictures and videos proving your own innocence and walked in with them to the hearing, the admin panel will dismiss your evidence without blinking an eye. Your panelists do not understand that the burden of proof is upon them to show you are wrong. Instead they will dismiss your evidence and accept only their own. They only see that you ran a red light. Seeing and understanding introduces the possibility that they have wronged hundreds of thousands of innocent drivers. That in turn induces a moral imperative for the city to make restitution into the millions of dollars. The city won't like that and that city will fire the panelists. They are employees of the city. So instead of doing what is right, the panelists opt to keep their jobs, protect their employer and convict everybody. It is also likely that the panelists appearing to judge your case are not the ones signing your conviction. In Cary, North Carolina, the person who signs your conviction was not one of the "judges" but rather your accuser. He was the one who charged you with running the red light in the first place.

5. The fifth trap is a secret one. The city conveniently does not publicize this trap. You will not find it on your citation. This trap is buried within the fine print on the enabling statutes. If you do not go to kangaroo court, you forfeit all legal rights to bring your case before a real court. You cannot petition the court to review your case. You cannot participate as a representative in a class action law suit. You however are smarter than the average bear. You went to the kangaroo court and were convicted. You can now proceed to the sixth trap.

6. You survived the condemnation of the administrative panel. Now you must decide whether you have the fortitude to petition the Superior Court. This is the sixth decision trap. Not only do you need fortitude but also you need legal know-how. You decide to file motions pro se (aka., by yourself) because hiring a lawyer is too expensive. After all this is only a $50 ticket. We got bad news for you. Only a lawyer has the knowledge to write such a petition.

When you petition the court, the city erects several new road blocks. The town rewards you with a specially worded law tailored to squash your advance. Petitioning the court must come in the nature of certiorari. This kind of petition comes with two assumptions. Such a petition 1) assumes that the town possesses a decision that the court can judge, and 2) assumes that the town possesses a recording of the proceeding. The law also comes with a time limit. You must do all this within 30 days of receiving the decision from the hearing.

If the city feels threatened by your challenge, the city plays dirty. The city will not issue a decision. To get a decision, you have to file a motion to legally compel the city to give you a decision. Before you can compel the city to give you a decision, you must have a recording of the proceeding. A decision means nothing without the recording of proceeding that goes along with it. The city won't give you the recording of the proceeding either. So you then file an injunction against the city to get the recording. But the city never made a recording. The city formally forbids anyone, kangaroos or you, to record the proceeding. If the judge is willing to overlook all that, then you can appear before the judge and plea your $50 ticket.

Petitioning in the nature of certiorari turned out to be chasing a rabbit. It was not necessary to go through this step even though the red light camera law says it was. Wake County Superior Court regards the petition unreasonable because it takes years to prepare a case, not a mere 30 days. That fact did not prevent Cary's lawyer from insisting that we go through this process. The judge dismissed her motion with a guffaw.

You now proceed to the seventh level.

7. A peaceable solution. You talk to traffic engineers of the City and of the NCDOT. You want to resolve the matter out of court. Please just fix the math mistake and I will let it go. The traffic engineers do not listen. And when you listen to them, it is clear that they haven't a clue what the math means behind their own specs. Then after four months you catch them bringing the intersection you got flashed at up to spec. You confront them and say, "The yellow light is now 0.5 seconds longer. You brought it up to spec. You tagged me at 0.3 seconds into the red while it was still 0.5 seconds short. Are you going to give me back my $50?"

The engineers and the City blow you off for a month. Then the City replies, "Specs change all the time. We are not giving you back your $50." They deny wrong doing, yet you know their spec hasn't changed in 5 years. Certainly the laws of physics have not changed in 14 billion years. You caught them lying. You know that the City knows it has screwed hundreds of thousands of people and intends to continue doing it for as long as it can get away with it.

The City is challenging you to do a dual.

Do you have the passion to take them up on that dual? Are you going to proceed to level 8?

8. A real court battle. Are you going to hire a lawyer? Do you hire a lawyer to defend against a $50 ticket? From a financial perspective, this is as stupid as stupid gets.

You need a lawyer who knows municipality law, prosecutes cases of natural law, who has faith in your abilities to demonstrate the principles of physics, and who understands the principles of physics himself. In the entire State of North Carolina, there is only one lawyer like this. Paul Stam. By shear luck, he happens to be your State Rep. This lawyer has faith in the case, is going to do the case of principle, and is going to do it pro bono.

At this point, the only worthwhile reason left is a moral principle. You feel the imperative to prevent millions of others getting screwed the same way. Yet in order to help others, you must turn the case into a class action. But to turn the case into a class action, other drivers must exist who qualify to engage in a legal action, and those drivers must also be willing to take part. How many other drivers dared to run the gauntlet through the fifth level? Only those people qualify and those people are very rare. Then you have to find them. And if you find them, then you have to convince them to let the city whip them some more.

Three years of pretrial motions, motions to dismiss everything, discovery, depositions, interrogatories and hearings pass. Now you get your day in court. You bring your entourage of eminent physicists and engineers to show the judge that the State's traffic engineers have royally screwed up their yellow light calculations. It really is so simple after all. The equation is supposed to be t = v/a, not v/2a.

The City argues to strike the laws of physics. That one is so crazy that you cannot think that the judge actually entertains it. But the judge does! The City argues that it is obeying all the statutes and that the yellows were set to spec--that the spec complies with the math and physics. The City argues that math errors should not be the concern of the Court. The City argues that it was not responsible for setting the yellows (only exploiting them) and that it is the NCDOT's fault for any wrong-doing, if there is, with the engineering.

The judge rules in favor of the City and never says anything about the physics. Behind the scenes however, the City had turned off the cameras several months before the trial and now after the trial makes you swear never to sue them again.

Now what? The engineering mistakes persist. People are still getting screwed by the red light cameras in the next city down the road. People are still crashing and dying even in your own city. No legal precedent is set. The solution to a world-wide problem cannot get past the borders of your own little city.

What next?

9. To the Board of Engineers . . . an authoritative government body whose mandate is to understand the mathematical and physical sciences and to assure that professional engineers know these things too. You must file complaints with the Board. One for each traffic engineer who has gotten the math wrong. That's 500 engineers in North Carolina alone. Yet it is true that the engineers "do not know the math and physical sciences in order to safeguard life, health and property." That certainly came out in the depositions gleaned from step 8.

It is true that these traffic engineers, personally, are the people who have enabled the entire red light camera scheme to exist to begin with.

Should step 9 have been step 1?

In hindsight, definitely.


Violators vs Non-Violators

The definition of violator from an engineers point of view is different from that of a police officiers point of view. Good engineers separate red light runners into two categories: violators and non-violators. Violators are guilty; non-violators are not guilty. Non-violators are drivers who are doing nothing wrong who get trapped in an error made by the engineer.


Red light runners who are violators . . .

  1. Drive through the light intentionally, or
  2. Are drunk drivers, or
  3. Are suicidal, or
  4. Have been distracted by things other than traffic conditions, for several seconds.

And . . .

  1. Drive through the red light several seconds after the light turned red, and
  2. Approach an intersection where there is no dilemma zone type I or type II issue. (I describe the dilemma zones in the next section.)


Given the physics described at this website, 99.999% of drivers running red lights are non-violators. These red light runners are not guilty. They should not be punished.

Red light runners who are non-violators . . .

  1. Do not drive through the light intentionally, and
  2. Are sober, and
  3. Are sane, and
  4. Have not been distracted for several seconds.

And are usually characterized by . . .

  1. Entering the intersection only a fraction of a second after the light turned red for straight-thru movement, or
  2. Entering the intersection up to 5 seconds after the light turned red for turning movements, or
  3. Accelerating to beat the light. When not sure what to do, accelerating is the best decision. The traffic engineer's yellow light formula is responsible for this behavior.

These non-violators have been subjected to a engineer-created dilemma zone. There are two types of dilemma zones. Non-violators are either . . .

  1. Victims of Dilemma Zone Type I: These red light runners are forced into a predicament where neither stop or go is possible. No matter what decision the driver makes, he will run the red light. This is where the traffic engineer "confronts the driver with an unsolvable decision problem.", . . . or
  2. Victims of Dilemma Zone Type II: These red light runners are forced into a predicament that a decision is available, but it is not clear what the decision should be. The driver unintentionally picks the wrong decision. This dilemma is the result of human behavior. The human brain, after all, is not a computer.

The person who coined the phrases, unsolvable decision, dilemma zone, red light running violators and non-violators, is Dr. Denos Gazis. These phrases originate from his paper The Problem of the Amber Light Signal in Traffic Flow. He wrote this paper in 1959 while working for GM Research Labs.

The paper The Problem of the Amber Light Signal in Traffic Flow is important. That paper is thee origin of the yellow light duration formula. It is this formula that traffic engineers use today. It is the formula we live and die by daily. It is the standard upon which police judge you. It is this same formula that traffic engineers miscomprehend, abuse and misuse at almost every intersection. And even when traffic engineers use it correctly, the formula still contains a physics error that creates a type II dilemma zone at every intersection.

The people who coined the phrase dilemma zone type II, are Dr. Tom Urbanik and Peter Koonce. It comes from their paper, The Dilemma with Dilemma Zones.