First, props to Missouri on this:
Modifications to the bill must be approved by the House before becoming law, but the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has already begun increasing yellow signal timing with very positive results. In Arnold, the first city in the Show Me state to use automated ticketing machines, yellow timing was increased from 4.0 to 5.0 seconds at three intersections along Missouri Route 141 on February 24. Smaller changes were made on April 15, including a boost from 4.0 to 4.4 seconds at northbound 141 and US 61/67, a 4.0 to 4.5 second change at northbound US 61/67 at Rockport School, and from 4.0 to 4.7 seconds at southbound Vogel Road at Richardson Road (4.3 seconds at the northbound approach).
The impact of the longer yellow at red light camera monitored locations was felt immediately. In January, before any signal timing had been changed, American Traffic Solutions recorded 875 alleged violations in the city of Arnold. At the end of April, that figure fell 70 percent to just 266. Jefferson County Councilman Bob Boyer obtained the ATS statistics after learning that MoDOT had extended the yellow times.
“This recent bit of information goes further to prove the point that there are other safety measures that can be implemented if safety, not money, is the focus,” Boyer said.
Whenever you talk about lengthening yellow lights, there’s always somebody that says that people will simply adjust. And sometimes people will. But study after study has suggested that in the aggregate, longer yellow lights reduce lightrunning as well as accidents. They also reduce revenue, which is part of the problem. So congratulations to Missouri for getting this right.
On the other hand…
[I]n Missouri, it is common that municipal prosecutors will regularly “amend” moving traffic violations, which incur points against one’s driver’s license and potentially raise car insurance rates, to non-moving violations which do not incur said points and insurance rate hikes. Of course, the prosecutor only does so under two conditions:
1) The fine for the “amended” violation is exorbitant compared to the moving violation fine–and compared to the usual fine for the actual non-moving violation, and
2) The victim–er, ticketed person–must have hired legal representation for the prosecutor to negotiate the amended complaint. (Non-lawyers, don’t try representing yourself. Prosecutors won’t do it. I tried…once upon a time when I was younger, drove less carefully, less wise, didn’t inhale, etc.)
Now, one may counter that this behavior is not “extortion” because it is not illegal for the prosecutor to negotiate an amended charge as part of a plea bargain, nor is the prosecutor directly benefiting from the extorted fees. However, this activity is a plea bargain only in the most superficial sense, since a miniscule percentage of moving violations are ever actually contested with a not-guilty plea to begin with and individuals engaging in this ‘bargain’ have no intent to contest the moving violation. In a game theoretic, it’s almost never a credible threat so there is virtually no chance court time will be used or the alleged criminal will go unpunished. And while the prosecutor may not directly pocket the huge fines, those fines comprise a non-trivial portion of many municipalities’ revenues, which do flow back in part to the prosecutor’s budget.
This is not entirely unlike what they’re doing in Delosa, wherein you can avoid having your ticket turned over to your insurance company under certain circumstances. This makes people less likely to contest, but also helps them skirt state laws about how much revenue a town can get from tickets (they can “only” get a third of overall revenue from traffic enforcement). On the one hand, this is great because it helps you keep a clean driving record. On the other hand, it allows them to write up more tickets. In the case of Missouri, it sounds like an odd freebie for lawyers.
As I’ve mentioned before, I got out of a ticket for which I was dead guilty by hiring a lawyer once. If a lawyer knows what they’re doing, they can make it not worth their trouble. Trying to defend yourself, though, is pretty foolish.