PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s not red lights Mats Jalstrom has a problem with, of course.
It’s not even red-light cameras.
What bothers the engineer is a red-light camera system in Beaverton that he says is deeply flawed, and can lead to drivers being issued unwarranted tickets.
“I don’t mind these cameras,” he said. “It’s just that they need to be implemented properly. It needs to be understood. And I think Beaverton - and even ODOT – don’t understand these.”
Jalstrom first took an interest in the cameras last spring, when his wife was mailed a $260 ticket for running a red-light in Beaverton at the intersection of Allen and Lombard.
“She ran the red light with 12-hundredths of a second,” he said. “And that's a very, very short time. And when I measured errors with my camera to be about 15-hundredths of a second. That error was greater than my wife's time stamp.”
Red light cameras in Portland and Beaverton:
Beaverton’s cameras, in other words, aren’t precisely timed. The software inside the cameras vary, as does the timing for flashes that collects evidence of people running red lights.
“You can't have a measuring device that has these errors that are greater than you're trying to measure,” Jalstrom. “It's just common sense.”
Fifteen-hundredths of a second is a bigger margin than you might think – it’s enough time for your car to travel 7 feet, which often can be the difference between ticket and no ticket.
Once Jarlestrom figured that out, he began a one-man crusade. Last week, he took his case to the Beaverton City Council for the 12th time.
He contends the variables in camera timing and the city’s policy of timing yellow lights to the minimum standards set by the National Institute of Traffic Engineers isn’t fair to drivers.
The City of Beaverton refused to comment on this story, but last year Public Works director Peter Arellano defended the yellow-light settings in a memo.
“Every one of the intersections programed by the city exceeds the minimum length recommendation set out in the ITE table above and is consistent with ODOT's recommended timing," he wrote.
"Reasonable minds may differ on the optimal duration of the yellow change interval at any particular intersection, but no yellow change interval at any intersection in Beaverton appears to fall outside recommended standards."
Other cities use different standards. KATU News talked to an official in Virginia Beach, Va., about why it uses different standards. Officials there chose to use longer yellow lights, and to give drivers caught on red-light cameras a half-second grace period.
“In the fairness of our program, it's very similar to a baseball analogy where the tie goes to the runner,” said Sgt. Dan Fiore, the Virginia Beach Police Department’s PhotoSafe program coordinator. “We're not trying to issue penalties or issue violations for people who are right on the edge of almost making the light.
“It gives the benefit to drivers who are caught in an area where they can't quite stop and they can't quite make it through, so that those people aren't getting violations for running a red light.”
Beaverton’s only pre-camera red-light crash statistics come before 2001, but they show crashes dropped about six percent fewer crashes after the cameras were installed. Virginia Beach, on the other hand, has seen an 11.6 percent drop.
“Drivers are not treated equally under the law,” Jarlestrom said. “And again, we have a constitutional right to be treated equally.”