Red-light cameras and 'smart' traffic lights have been criticized as nothing more than cash cows for the cities that use them to ensnare unwary drivers. Now an investigation unfolding in Italy may be shining a light on even darker practices.

More than merely catching out drivers that push the limits of the traffic light system, the T-Redspeed 'smart' traffic system and its makers are being accused of intentionally cutting the yellow time to half the statutory recommendation in order to generate more revenue.

Over 1,400 red-light infractions were captured in a two-month period in 2007 in Lerici, a small town in the north of Italy that installed the system. That number far outstrips the 15-per-day maximum of the town's police force. Similar results in the 300 cities using the T-Redspeed system for the past two years raised a red flag that something wasn't quite right.

That, in turn, led to fraud charges being leveled against Stefano Arrighetti, inventor of the T-Redspeed system. Prosecutors in Verona say Arrighetti committed fraud by certifying the system's approval by the Ministry of Transport, reports The Independent. While the cameras used in the system did get that approval, the computer systems, analysis software and overall package did not.

Investigators are also finding that the city police didn't bother to review the fines reported by the computer system for validity, instead simply rubber-stamping the T-Redspeed findings and sending tickets on to motorists.

The persons being investigated alongside Arrighetti include 63 city police chiefs and 39 local government officials. Seven other private companies also have personnel under investigation. The T-Redspeed system uses stereographic cameras to compute the speed and location of moving traffic.