Do red-light cameras put profit over public safety?

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Red-light camera

Red-light cameras: for safety or for profit? Image: functoruser/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Red-light cameras have become increasingly popular since their introduction in the early 1990s. The cameras are designed to automatically take a picture of any vehicle that crosses through an intersection while the traffic signal is red. Citations are then mailed to the registered owner. Opponents say they are intrusive and put profits ahead of public safety. Supporters say they are a cost-effective way to keep motorists in check.

Profit over safety

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group says many municipalities sign contracts with companies like Redflex and American Traffic Solutions, which take half of the income from traffic tickets. Municipalities then require law enforcement to write more tickets to increase revenue.

Ross Kenneth Urken of AOL Autos said the best way to minimize rear-end collisions at controlled intersections is to lengthen the time the light stays yellow. However, he says, some municipalities, to maximize profits, shorten the duration of yellow lights. That was the case in Glassboro, N.J., last year when a nearby town’s former mayor was issued a ticket from a red-light camera. Upon investigating, it became clear that the duration of the yellow light was less than the four-second federal minimum.

Too much power

Some contracts give private companies an inordinate amount of power, says the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Some contracts penalize municipalities if they waive more than 10 percent percent of red-light citations. Some have the right to veto locations of red-light cameras if they think the location will not yield sufficient income.

Camera bans

A dozen U.S. cities and nine states have already banned their use, according to Urken. Los Angeles, Houston, and Colorado Springs are the most recent large municipalities to disallow them.

Last week the use of red-light cameras was suspended in Naperville, Ill., for the time being. The town uses cameras at three intersections, two of which will be shut down for more than a year for a major road expansion project. However, because one light will not generate the revenue necessary to cover the contract extension, the city council decided to suspend renewal at this time. Redflex also made it clear to the city that it would not extend the contract with only one traffic intersection being monitored.

Monday the city of Albuquerque, N.M., is set to vote on whether or not to discontinue the use of its red-light cameras. City council member Dan Lewis said, if the cameras are taken down, “the city will be forced to engineer traffic intersections for safety and not revenue.”

Camera supporters

Supporters of the devices say that the cameras improve traffic safety and reduce accidents while they help keep recession-ravaged municipalities in the black. Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry said that recent research shows that safety improved at 14 of the city’s 20 intersections monitored by the devices.

Albuquerque Police Sgt. Jana Ryan cited motorist responsibility as another reason to leave the cameras in operation:

“People think that it’s their God-given right to drive however they want, and they don’t think the cameras give them a sporting chance.”


AOL Autos
Naperville Sun
Wall Street Journal

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