Tag Archives: Traffic law

The Traffic Light Scam

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If true, this is a scam that is going to fuel the conspiracy theories of every driver who feels they were fined unfairly for crossing a red light. Police in Italy have arrested the inventor of a smart traffic light system, and are investigating another 108 people, on suspicion of tampering with the software to speed up the transition from amber to to red, netting the local police and others in on the scam millions of dollars of extra fines.

The question is: Is this kind of thing limited only to Italy?

The Independent writes:

Stefano Arrighetti, 45, an engineering graduate from Genoa who created the “T-Redspeed” system, is under house arrest, and 108 other people are under investigation after it was alleged that his intelligent lights were programmed to turn from amber to red in half the regulation time. The technology, which was adopted all over Italy, employs three cameras designed to assess the three-dimensional placement of vehicles passing a red light and store their number plates on a connected computer system.

Those now under investigation include 63 municipal police commanders, 39 local government officials and the managers of seven private companies.

The fraud, The Independent says, was uncovered by Roberto Franzini, police chief of Lerici, on the Ligurian coast, who – in February 2007 – noticed the abnormal number of fines being issued for jumping red lights. “There were 1,439 for the previous two months,” he said. “It seemed too much: at the most our patrols catch 15 per day.” He went to check the lights and found that they were changing to red after three seconds instead of the five seconds that had been normal.

Unanswered, of course, is why it’s taken two years for the fraud to be stopped and investigated. The inventor’s lawyer has said he is innocent. Mr Arrighetti’s LinkedIn page is here. He is described as the owner of Kria, a Milan-based company which sells the T-Redspeed and other traffic monitoring systems.

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Image of Arrighetti from Insight24 webcast

The T-Redspeed system is described in the company literature as “the newest and most innovative digital system for vehicle speed and red light violation detection. Based on special video cameras, it doesn’t require additional sensors (inductive loops, radars or lasers). It measures the speed of the vehicles (instantaneous and average) up to 300 km/h.”

Some forum posters have suggested a system used by British authorities, RedSpeed, is the same, but on first glance it doesn’t look like it. That said, reducing the amber phase seems to be a widespread source of extra revenue: The National Motorists Association of America has found six cities that have shortened the amber phase beyond the legal amount, apparently as a way to increase revenue.

Illustration from Kria brochure (PDF)

Traffic Rules Part I

Traffic1The difference between a developed metropolis and a developing one isn’t transportation — it’s the rules and discipline about how that transportation is used. A city like Hong Kong flows because everyone follows the rules. A city like Jakarta doesn’t because people don’t. It’s not about building more roads, or more subways, or more bus lanes, but about developing rules that ensure existing transportation is used as it should be. Cars, people, trains and buses flow because they each agree to a set of rules that ensure that flow. In effect it’s like one big sliding puzzle. The bits move around because there’s space for them to move around.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s just people stopping at red lights, or people allowing passengers to alight before they try to embark. The rules can be sophisticated or basic, but they only work if they’re followed: In Hong Kong a taxi driver won’t cross a thick white line even if there’s no traffic around; in Jakarta there are several red lights around the city that cars don’t bother to even stop at. In one city nothing is negotiable; in another everything is. A new buslane in Jakarta that’s officially off limits to all vehicles except buses and emergency vehicles is already awash with ordinary traffic.

Somehow in Hong Kong the rules have become the norm, and no one needs to be around to enforce them. Everyone keeps everyone else in line. In Jakarta, the rules are seen as an obstacle, something to be overcome. It’s not as if drivers in Hong Kong are somehow collaborating in a fit of consideration, but there is a tacit recognition that by following the rules, everyone will benefit. Even in pedestrian overpasses, somehow a rule establishes itself — everyone walks on the left, say, and the two-way flow is optimized. It doesn’t seem hard and fast; the next day everyone seems to be walking on the right. But it works. A self-organizing system.

Jakarta is not. It’s a free-for-all. Or actually, it’s has its own rules. It’s just they’re not optimized for the situation. The bigger the vehicle, for example, the more it will take precedence over other vehicles. And a car in Hong Kong won’t pull into traffic if by doing so it will slow down that traffic. This is what the Stop/Give way/Yield sign is for. A car in Jakarta will do the opposite: It will pull out slowly, inching into the road until the traffic is forced to slow down to accommodate it. In fact the dominance of unwritten traffic rules in a city like Jakarta ensure that traffic will never work efficiently.

Until those rules are replaced with rules that work and the discipline to ensure they’re followed, developing cities will never become developed ones. It’s not about the infrastructure. It’s about the way it’s used.

News: Turkmenistan Gets It Right

From the I Know This Puts Me in The Old Attila the Hun, Died In The Wool Conservative, Young Fogey department, a story from Turkmenistan that I can’t help feeling is a step in the right direction. News Central Asia reports (and thanks to TechDirt for pointing it out) that drivers in Turkmenistan are now forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, listen to loud music or use a mobile phone while driving their vehicles.

These restrictions were announced on 1 May 2003 under the presidential order “Rules of Traffic for Turkmenistan” but their release was delayed because the driver carrying the order from the Ministry of Defence was arrested for picking his nose on the way. (Actually I made that bit up. He was caught playing The Rubettes ‘Sugar Baby Love’ and singing the high bits, thereby also breaking another set of laws about mimicking strangled chickens while working heavy machinery. )

The government handout goes on (and all this is real if nCa is to be believed): These rules are meant to enforce contemporary world practices in Turkmenistan.

Part of the problem seems to be enforcement. The regular traffic police, which operated under the Ministry of the Interior, was liquidated last year for reasons I am not able to go into here, mainly because I am not an expert on Turkmenistan. They now work under the management of the ministry of defence which inducts military conscripts as traffic cops. This may not be unrelated to a new system of penalties to encourage people to conform to the laws. According to a system introduced in January, a traffic penalty must be paid within 12 hours, or by 8 am the next day if the ticket was issued after 6 pm the previous day. In case of failure to do so, the amount of penalty would double every 12 hours. After 72 hours, the vehicle would be confiscated and will remain in government custody until the fine is paid. “It has been noted with satisfaction that the [stricter] rules have brought good results; now there are fewer traffic incidents,” says the official statement. It probably also means there are no cars left on the road that don’t belong to the police. That the traffic police are all carrying grenade launchers also probably helps. (I made that bit up too.)

Now it only remains to be seen what happens with these new violations. I have to say I’m all in favour. I hate people eating while they’re driving, particularly if they’re on the phone. And especially if they’re drinking at the same time, AND listening to The Rubettes. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.