By Jacqui Cheng
As if red-light and speed cameras weren't already controversial enough, a recent discovery in Italy is sure to send all drivers over to the Hatorade stand. A programmer and 108 other individuals are being investigated for rigging a "smart" traffic light system to purposefully trap drivers and fine them for violations, with some speculating that up to a million Italian drivers have been unfairly slapped with fines.
A 45-year-old engineering graduate from Genoa named Stefano Arrighetti is responsible for programming the T-Redspeed system that has been implemented throughout Italy. T-Redspeed uses three cameras as part of the traffic light system, which is meant to determine the exact 3D placement of vehicles going through the intersection in addition to storing their licence plate information. When drivers are caught running a red light, performing an illegal left turn, or any number of other violations, they are automatically fined €150 for each incident.
It turns out, however, that Arrighetti and a handful of public officials were allegedly a bit greedier than most. He's accused of conspiring with 63 municipal police, 39 local government officials, and the managers of seven different companies in order to rig the system so that it would turn from yellow to red quicker, therefore catching more motorists. The scheme was uncovered by Lerici police chief Roberto Franzini, who noticed that the number of violations were too high for a period of months and, after some investigation, found that the lights were changing way sooner than usual. "There were 1,439 for the previous two months," Franzini told The Independent (via TechDirt). "It seemed too much: at the most our patrols catch 15 per day."
According to the police report seen by The Independent, some 300 municipalities across Italy and a number of companies shared the revenues made by the rigged camera system since it was implemented in 2007. Arrighetti has since been put under house arrest while the case is being investigated, though Arrighetti's lawyer insisted to the newspaper that he was innocent and that there was no need for the T-Redspeed system to be checked. "Arrighetti is a genius whom the whole world envies," Arrighetti's attorney Rosario Minniti said.
Red light cameras have been under increased scrutiny by citizens and the media, and apparently for good reason. A local newspaper recently discovered in Denver that the city had not been collecting the required accuracy data from the contractor who implemented its red light cameras, but that didn't stop Denver from sending out $75 tickets to over 14,000 drivers. And, of course, yellow-light shorting is a trend that seems to be making its way around the world quickly as municipalities discover that while it may not exactly improve safety, it can definitely improve ticket revenues.
On top of it all, red light and speed cameras have been known to be wildly inaccurate at times, which is why some teenagers have taken to pranking their enemies by masking their cars with fake license plates and speeding through lights so that they get caught on camera.