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Red Light Cameras: Crossing the Line and ‘Amber Time’

The New York State Legislature allowed 50 locations for red light cameras and is in the process of completing installation of them. Early in March the legislature endorsed two bills in the assembly and senate to increase the number and locations of red light cameras to 100. Motorists have been grumbling about the $50 tickets with the $15 surcharge. Some even suggested entrapment, saying the amber light had been shortened to snag more motorists.

“Not so,” said Chris Mistron, Nassau County’s Coordinator of Traffic Safety, who had been involved in the research for the red light cameras. “This is not an ‘I gotcha program,’ he stressed, rather, “It was set up for purposes of greater safety— to reduce accidents and fatalities. The program is geared to encourage people to change their behavior.”

And, he instructed, before cameras were installed all timing on the signals was checked and deemed correct. So all signals meet and may exceed the requirements set by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, a Federal publication, and a factor in determining the ‘amber time’ of traffic signals. Mistron noted it is a complicated calculation based on many factors including the width of the road, number of lanes, and whether the road is curved.

Also a factor, he said, is the prevailing speed —not necessarily the speed limit. In other words, Mistron explained, the manual says you can either use the speed limit or the prevailing speed, meaning if the average motorist travels at 45 mph in a 40 mph area then the prevailing speed is 45 mph. Mistron said Nassau County uses the prevailing speed, and by using the increased speed he indicated you can actually increase the amber time.

The traffic safety coordinator indicated that the allowable amber time limit falls roughly somewhere between 3 and 6 seconds, with the average between 3.5 to 4.2 seconds. The program is geared to encourage people to change their behavior, to encourage them to stop before making a right turn on red. Mistron emphasized there is no requirement as to the amount of time you must stop at a red light before making the right hand turn but there must be a “cessation of movement.”  As long as the person stops, he said, he will not get a ticket.

An advantage of the system employed in Nassau County is that there is a video image of everything. When they validate the tickets at Traffic and Parking Violations they watch the video, so it is not just a series of pictures.

Mistron explained a motorist who advances to an intersection during a green light and is subsequently caught in the intersection after the light has turned red will not receive a ticket. You have to pass the white stop line, he said, after the light turns red to activate the camera and receive a ticket. If in the intersection waiting to make that turn, and the light turns red, you do not get a ticket. The person who does get a ticket, Mistron said, is the car behind you who follows you through the red light.

On the top right of the ticket it provides a website where you can punch in your ticket number and a PIN number assigned to you to view your video. If you still have a question about your ticket, Mistron counseled, you can plead in front of a judge who can review the video with you.

“We will field any question from the public. We want it understood this is strictly for safety, with the idea of getting people to be more conscious of how they drive.” Call 571-7021, Chris Mistron’s office number, with any questions.


Red Light Camera Historical Revenue

Provided by Legislative Budget Review

2009 (First Year Implemented)
Gross Revenue ($2,385,483)
Expenses ($320,263)
Net Revenue ($2,065,220)

Gross Revenue ($14,936,814)
Expenses ($4.451.723)
Net Revenue ($10,485,091)

When the county voted to approve red light cameras they stipulated net revenue be used to fund youth boards.