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New Report Raises Concerns About Red Light Cameras

The Report - "Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead - The Risks of Privatizing Traffic Law Enfrocement and How to Protect the Public" - was produced by the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group.

Editor's Note: The following is a news release issued by the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group. South Brunswick had considered placing a red light camera at the intersection of Route 1 and Henderson Road before being

A new research report released on Oct. 27 outlines problems with the growing trend among cities to outsource traffic enforcement to red-light and speed camera vendors.
 
“Too many cities wrongly sign away power to ensure the safety of citizens on the roads when they privatize traffic law enforcement. Automated traffic ticketing tends to be governed by contracts that focus more on profits than safety,” said Jen Kim of NJPIRG, the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group.  “That shouldn’t happen,” Kim added.
 
The report, titled Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead; The Risks of Privatizing Traffic Law Enforcement and How to Protect the Public finds that approximately half of the states have enabled the use of automated traffic law enforcement. 

Municipalities in these states contract with private companies to provide cameras and issue citations to traffic violators. Citizens have often objected to privatized forms of traffic enforcement and many municipalities have found themselves in legal trouble when they attempt to change or update these contracts.

Traffic engineering alternatives, such as lengthening yellow lights, are often the best way to reduce injuries from red-light running. However, those solutions too often get ignored because contractors and sometimes municipalities are more focused on increasing revenue from tickets.
 
New Jersey began a pilot program for red light cameras in 2008. To date, twenty-five municipalities across the state have joined the program, with most outsourcing to American Traffic Solutions (ATS) or Redflex, private vendors. 

Redflex and ATS have both been the subject of “deals gone bad” in contracts with other cities. The report detailed one example in Tempe, Arizona where Redflex filed a lawsuit against the city for implementing a program where drivers could avoid fines by attending traffic school. In California, Bell Gardens signed a contract with Redflex that would penalize the city if it chooses to alter the length of its yellow lights. 
 
“If these contracts put revenue first and safety last, its puts the public at risk. Safety should always be first,” said Kim.
 
“Because of the controls established by law for the red-light camera pilot program, many municipalities decided not to participate or withdrew before contracting with a vendor to avoid many of the pitfalls outlined in the report,” said Steve Carrellas, of the New Jersey chapter of the National Motorists Association.
 
Cities including Paramus are currently considering adding red light cameras. “Paramus’s contract discussions involve a fee-for-service structure which is the least problematic. It means the city will pay a flat fee, rather than one that incentivizes the camera company based on the number of tickets,” said Kim. “But, they should still also explore alternatives such as longer yellow lights.”
 
Last October it was discovered that the town of Glassboro, one of the many to install red light cameras, had yellow lights that lasted shorter than the federal minimum of 4 seconds (in 35 mph zones). It was discovered after the former Harrison Township mayor received a ticket himself.
 
The report recommends stronger guidelines to ensure that automated traffic enforcement programs must focus on improving road safety, rather than ticket revenue.  Deals between local governments and traffic camera vendors should:

  • Put public safety first in decisions regarding enforcement of traffic laws – this includes evaluating privatized law enforcement camera systems against alternative options without regard to potential revenues.
  • Ensure that contract language is free from potential conflicts of interest.
  • Avoid direct or indirect incentives for vendors that are based on the volume of tickets or fines.
  • Retain public control over traffic policy and engineering decisions, including cancelling contracts if the public is dissatisfied.
  • Ensure that the process of contracting with vendors is completely open, with ample opportunity for public participation and each ticket listing where to find online data about automated ticketing for each intersection.

 

“We are lucky that New Jersey hasn’t yet seen the same level of controversy and lawsuits over red-light cameras found in states like California and Texas. Looking at the growth of this industry around the country, we want to learn from problems elsewhere to prevent them in New Jersey,” said Kim.
 
“Most of all, the law calls for the pilot program to end so any contract should have taken into account the anticipated end or a possible premature end if the New Jersey Department of Transportation rules that any particular camera system installation is creating safety issues,” added Carrellas.
 
New Jersey’s pilot program ends in 2013 at which the state will evaluate the usefulness of the program.

Dan October 29, 2011 at 01:27 PM
Red light cameras are strictly revenue enhancement for the Townships and private companies running them. The politicians should just acknowledge that fact.
raymond Weis October 29, 2011 at 01:31 PM
I have voiced my opinion about red light cameras before. I still feel they will cause more accidents and worse accidents than they will save, especially on higher speed roads like rte 1. When you have 3000 pound cars sharing the highway with 80000 pound trucks the stopping ability is so different between the two vehicles that bad things are sure to happen. From personal experience I can tell you that cars change lanes in front of trucks without leaving adequate stopping room for the truck. Compound that by jamming on your brakes to avoid an eighty dollar ticket and it could cost you an eight thousand dollar funeral. It is amazing how many people think they are leaving enough room for braking without taking in to consideration the much heavier truck. I use my life experience of driving a tractor trailer 3000000 accident free miles.
Winston October 29, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Ray, I support the town council on this..... "We tried to change the location to where the reports showed us were the highest incidents of accidents," said Mayor Frank Gambatese. According to the mayor and council revenue over safety is the number one priority. Ray, you need to get your priorities straight. We need to raise as much money as possible so the town can spend more money
AC October 29, 2011 at 06:39 PM
I believe that red light cameras, in theory, are a great idea. But as in so many cases "in theory" and reality are miles apart. I am not completely convinced that the contractors for these things aren't completely revenue oriented, regardless of the intention of any municipality. And there does not seem to be any recourse of someone who believes that the summons was issued due to a discrepancy or an error in the camera. Look at what they said about Glassboro. Do you think that John Q. Public who got a ticket at the same intersection they said had a faulty timed yellow light stood a chance in court? It took the former mayor getting a ticket to have someone research--and find fault--with the light. And while I have a great deal of respect and regard for the big wheel haulers, I have seen and been the recipient of some horrible maneuvers by the truckers, as well as some of the light "goosing", which would make for a terrible result if someone were expecting to be able to make the lane change, see the 'red light camera' sign and stop abruptly. And, if the police were allowed to do their jobs-- and wanted to -- without all the politicians doing the politically correct--not correct--dance- taking opposing sides to right and lawful enforcement..Maybe the safety issue could be better addressed. Example: years ago, So. Bruns. used to run radar-- regularly but not predictably-- so that motorists strongly believed they would get a ticket if they violated. Not any more.
raymond Weis October 30, 2011 at 11:13 AM
ac You are right about there being some terrible yruck drivers out on the highway. I have some of my own theorys about why that is, but regardless we know they are out there and I would not like to be the one who sacrificed my family to prove that point. I feel we would all be better off if a police officer was assigned to monitor a problem intersection and give summons out where warranted. I think it would have more effect if a cop politely explained what an idiot you are.
raymond Weis October 31, 2011 at 01:22 PM
ac On rereading my comment of yesterday I have to appoligize. The last sentence shoud have said what an idiot they are. It was not aimed at you.
AC October 31, 2011 at 01:49 PM
thanks for the clarification, no offense taken. I did not take it personally, although I think a large percentage of the population falls into that category at some point, maybe even me. do you know how difficult it is to use the term "foolish" rather than "idiot" when relaying that type of information to a driver? That takes restraint that even the best of police may find challenging :)

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