Cobra gives green light to red-light detector
January 4, 2007
BY HOWARD WOLINSKY Business Reporter
Been zapped by those red-light cameras at busy Chicago intersections?
No worries. Countermeasures are on the way that may help motorists smile at the cameras and avoid the fines.
Chicago-based Cobra Electronics, a leading manufacturer of radar detectors and GPS navigators, on Friday will unveil a new line of products that can let drivers outsmart those frustrating red light cameras.
Cobra said its new GPS-enabled radar detector and GPS navigators will be the first products for the U.S. market dedicated to warning drivers about the presence of red-light cameras as well as speed cameras, school zones and traffic "black spots," or dangerous intersections.
Dave Marsh, director of mobile navigation at Cobra, said: "Our red-light and speed-camera detectors will help motorists drive more safely because they have warnings about potentially unsafe and dangerous areas."
Red-light cameras reduce injuries from accidents by 30 percent, according to a 2005 study by RoadPeace, a British traffic safety group. Marsh said he wasn't aware if research has shown that the addition of the detectors actually prevent crashes, but believes they naturally will cause drivers to be more careful when faced with "photo enforcement."
In late 2003, the City of Chicago began installing cameras to snap photos of drivers, their cars and license tags as they went through red lights at busy intersections. The city mails out the images along with the date and time of the violation and a bill for $90. From January through August 2006, more than 200,000 drivers have been caught "in the box" -- the area between the crosswalks -- generating about $20 million in fines, according to the city.
Kevin Smith, spokesman for the city's Office of Emergency Communication and Management, which runs the red-light camera program, said he doesn't see why drivers need a warning system.
"People should obey the law. That's the goal," he said. "It's no secret where the cameras are. We list them at our Web site."
Smith said the city has 30 red-light cameras in place and expects to soon add 20 more.
Cobra's Marsh said it takes some digging to find the camera's locations online. He said Cobra's system can help motorists on their home turf or while driving on unfamiliar streets out of town.
He said authorities in the European Union and Asia use red-light and speed cameras primarily as safety measures to control traffic. The agencies there put up signs warning drivers they are approaching camera-monitored areas.
In contrast, U.S. agencies have viewed the cameras as revenue sources, and typically have not put up warning signs, he said.
Marsh, who has tried camera detectors in the United Kingdom, Japan and Korea, said, "You drive a bit differently when you know you are entering an area with a camera or is potentially hazardous. People tend to slow down and be more careful."
The detectors find the camera locations by linking GPS readings with a database listing enforcement cameras.
Initially, Cobra's detectors, which will be available in March at major retail and online electronics stores, will list 5,000 locations of traffic cameras, black spots and school zones. But within a year, that will increase to 10,000, Marsh said.
Cobra will unveil the detector at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which opens Friday.
Chicago-based Cobra Electronics' GPS-enabled radar detector and navigators don't come cheap.
Cobra's devices, dedicated to warning drivers about the presence of red-light cameras as well as speed cameras, school zones and traffic "black spots," or dangerous intersections, make their debut Friday at the huge Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Red-light and speed-camera information will be available on Cobra's XRS R9G, the first radar detector with built-in GPS locator and wireless remote, and lists for $450.
The new Nav One 2100 GPS unit with a 3½-inch screen with optional traffic reports, is sticker priced at $299; the Nav One 4000 GPS unit, with optional traffic data, and a 5-inch screen, goes for $599, and Nav One 4500 with a 5-inch screen and built-in traffic data receiver, is priced at $799.