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What Motivates You?

Whether It’s An Action To Reinforce Or To Correct, Nothing Beats The Personal Touch.

By Randy K. Logsdon

An October 9 investigative report in the Chicago Tribune delved into a sudden increase in automated red-light citations issued at several Chicago intersections. It seems that the citations that are issued by mail include data regarding the infraction, including the length of the amber warning prior to the signal displaying red. The standard minimum amber duration for a 30 mph intersection is three seconds. Hundreds of citations were overturned because the ticket reported the duration at 2.9 seconds or less.


Blaming fluctuations in the power supply at the installations, the contractor responsible for operating the system reported that the amber times are rounded down for reporting and that the actual amber duration could be as high as 2.998 seconds (still under 3.0).

No one is certain how many unwarranted citations were paid. While the report focuses on the unfair issuance of traffic citations, two other implications of the report caught my attention.

Does this system effectively promote behavior change? The sole purpose of the traffic lights at an intersection is to manage cross-traffic in a way that promotes efficient travel and prevents collisions. Being unmanned, there is an inherent reliance on people to follow a set of simple rules and to cooperate.

So even if the automated enforcement system is working “fairly,” is it possible that a driver who pushes the limits of the amber warning would change his or her behavior because of a $100 ticket that may be mailed in a week or 10 days? Or is the motivation to “beat the red” strong enough for the driver to accept the risk of getting a ticket?

There are other unanswered questions. Does the likelihood of a collision even enter into the thought process? Is the behavior of a driver caught after a 2.998 second amber any different from that of a driver caught after a 3.002 second amber light?

In a subsequent report the folks who manage the system claim that the system does improve behavior but no real data was provided to substantiate the claim. An official even questioned that assessment. If behaviors are changing why is the frequency of violation increasing?

I wonder if a more personal approach may be more effective. Would being pulled over add force to the penalty? When that occurs a fine is still issued, but there is also the inconvenience of stopping, there’s the lecture from the police officer and the potential for embarrassment.

Has the public safety issue been diluted by revenue generation? Although not blatantly stated, much of the rhetoric in the article revolved around generating revenue. The system is operated by a (for profit) contractor and after an initial investment; the system efficiently collects fines from (alleged) violators and deposits those fines into the city’s coffers. It begins to look more like a use tax and one wonders if public safety remains the primary objective.

You may already have gathered the correlation I find with mine safety. It’s all about motivation – why we do what we do.

We want to influence miners to practice safe behaviors. Whether it’s an action to reinforce or to correct, nothing beats the personal touch. Behavior-based Safety (BBS) systems rely heavily on data collection and analysis to measure success but the real heart of such systems is in the individual contact – the conversation that includes recognition (positive or negative) in a genuinely caring manner. Leadership models rely on the same principles.

We should also be cautious of our own motivation. I will not suggest that your local MSHA inspector is out just to generate revenue for the U.S. Treasury. But the inspector’s actions can produce a disproportionate influence on our safety priorities. Yes, we do have to comply. We have to build and maintain compliance systems. We cannot neglect those deficiencies that can lead to violations. MSHA can make it very uncomfortable if we fail.

While we strike that balance between MSHA priorities and our own operating priorities, our prevailing focus must always be on ensuring safety in a manner that will most effectively reduce those risks prone to leading to leading to injury, illness and death.