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[whitespace] Rats help nab red-light runners

Sunnyvale--Rats will be dispersed at busy intersections in Sunnyvale to help catch the much despised Red Light Runner, after councilmembers approved a $25,000 grant at the Dec. 12 meeting to initiate the new program.

The Red Light Runner--a dangerous creature witnessed by many and appreciated by few--caused 71 injury accidents in Sunnyvale in 1996, Capt. Chuck Eanuff of the Department of Public Safety said.

Workers will install the rats--also known as "Rat Boxes" for the tail-like cord that hangs down from the back of the signal box--sometime in the spring, according to transportation planner Jack Whitthaus.

The rats will be placed behind signal boxes in 15 to 18 intersections throughout the city.

"The problem with citing red-light violations," Capt. Eanuff said, "is that traditionally you have to see the light change and the limit line. If I want to give that car a ticket, I've got to go through the red light right after him. It causes problems."

The rat box allows officers to see if a car ran a red light without having to trail the Red Light Runner. If a Red Light Runner is moving toward a police car, the officer merely has to look at the back of the signal box to see if, indeed, the creature gives in to its bad habit.

If so, a red light flashes from the back of the signal box, and the officer can stop the Red Light Runner as it moves closer downstream.

"Going through the red lights interferes with our ability to give out those tickets," Eanuff said. "And that reduces the chances of giving the tickets. We don't want to increase the chances of anyone getting hurt."

Approval of the grant from the Traffic Safe Communities Coalition for Santa Clara County follows a trial period during which rats were used in three Sunnyvale intersections where high numbers of Red Light Runners were known to congregate.

In 1996, the last year records were kept, Red Light Runners were responsible for 7 percent of the 2,081 automobile accidents in the city. Red Light Runners caused two fatalities.

The rats are an improvement on "Photo Red Light Enforcement," the traffic cameras that several other local communities have used to target the Red Light Runner.

Councilmembers had a chance to purchase the cameras, but they cited unreliability and blurry images as reasons to go with something more effective, a city report said.

The rats are helping patrol officers in the fight on two fronts, the report added. One, the rats allow the officers to sit back at a superior vantage point to witness the creature without engaging in a dangerous pursuit. And two, rats are inexpensive to purchase and maintain, the city report said.
Justin Berton

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