This is one of those experiences that I have had the displeasure of having to learn about, pretty much the hard way. It’s not so much an instruction in how to save money as it is a PSA in how to avoid having it siphoned out of your pockets.
Years ago, when I was helping my sister move to the South, I was trailing to her new digs in a rented moving truck. At one particular intersection, my sister had rolled through a light cycle in the process of going from green to red. She blow through the yellow light as it was preparing to change to red, followed closely by me. However, I failed to make the light, and came pretty close to running it. I actually had to back up to the light, after having made it a few feet into the intersection.
One day a couple of week later, after I had made it back home back up North, I went to my mailbox and opened up an official-looking letter from the government of a local municipality in Georgia; it was a computer-generated a traffic ticket time stamped with a date, time, and a picture of the license plate of the rental truck I had helped move my sister in. Needless to say, I was both surprised and livid. I remember thinking, If I had known that I would get a ticket for running a red light that I hadn’t actually ran, I would have just ran it and paid for my ignorance of traffic-enforcement practices in other regions of the country.
Actually, “traffic enforcement” is more of an acknowledgment of red light traffic cameras being ostensibly used to “ensure safety at certain dangerous intersections;” in most cases, these devices are about revenue enhancement for local municipalities. And for those in denial of this, consider the findings of the National Motorist Association (NMA). According to the nonprofit motorist interest group, “cities are trimming the timing on yellow lights so they skip right to red” on red light cameras “to increase their camera revenues" (Shorter Yellow Lights Mean More Red-Light Revenue).
In fact, local municipalities have become so focused on the using these devices to obtain money from motorists that they have started using more creative schemes to leverage the effectiveness of the cameras. In Oakland, California, the noticeable 56% decrease in traffic violations (and resulting ticket revenues) after the yellow light on the city’s traffic cameras had been extended by a full second made “police department officials…irate.” After pressure from the city’s police department and officials from Redflex Traffic Systems—the Australian-based company which has contracts with most municipalities throughout the country using these devices—the yellow light on the traffic camera lights were subsequently to increase revenues back to previous levels.
Using Oakland as an example of how this system works, “the city's cut of each $480 ticket is about $160 after the state and county governments take their share.” Redflex, seeking to maximize profits from its exclusive contracts with the cities using these devices, exerts occasional pressure on local municipalities seeking to regulate the devices in ways which might limit revenues as they had done so in Oakland (“Oakland, California Raises, Then Shortens Yellow Time for Revenue”).
According to the NMA, "Chicago’s yellow lights last three seconds -- even where traffic is going more than 40 miles an hour. Bowman says the city earns more than $70 million a year from red light cameras.
And even without the creative measures to increase the chances that motorists might have to shelve out money because of these devices, in many cases motorists are erroneously cited for engaging in innocent driving practices.
In Cary, North Carolina, police were forced to "review 17 red light cameras across town after citizens complained that they were being wrongfully fined" ("Cary Investigating Red Light Cameras After Drivers Wrongfully Fined")
And with revenues being so creatively maximized by the use of these devices, don't look forward to their going away anytime soon.
The best advice I can give those who might find themselves at risk of having to shelve our their hard-earned money encountering these devices is to be aware of cities and towns where they are in use.
If at all possible, try to avoid intersections where it's know these devices are known to be installed.
In most intersections where red-light cameras are in use, these areas as usually clearly marked as camera-enforcement zones...be aware and slow down as a way of preparing for short yellow lights.