Cities Blink on Traffic Cameras - More Ask if Devices Used to Catch Drivers Running Red Lights Are for Safety or Revenue (Fair Use Excerpt)
In Print: Monday, November 7, 2011
By NATHAN KOPPEL
Officials in Albuquerque, N.M., are expected to decide Monday whether to join the small but growing number of cities that have switched off cameras meant to catch motorists running red lights.
Traffic moves past a Knoxville, Tenn., traffic camera. Tennessee is among places reconsidering or restricting the use of red-light cameras, which critics say are mainly intended to raise revenue, not promote safety.
Nationwide, red-light traffic cameras have surged in popularity. More than 550 localities—including New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago—have installed them since the early 1990s, according to a spokesman the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The cameras have resulted in millions of tickets, which often carry fines of about $100. Fans call them a cost-effective tool for keeping drivers in line and intersections safe.
Critics, though, portray the cameras as Big Brother devices that allow cities to generate revenue from traffic offenses so minor that police might not have bothered to write them up if they had seen them with the naked eye. Others say the cameras raise constitutional concerns, penalizing many violators before they have had an opportunity to explain extenuating circumstances or even whether they were driving the car captured on film. Depending on the community, the cameras also can be used to detect speeders.
City officials in Los Angeles, Houston, and Colorado Springs have recently deactivated the red-light cameras.
"The red light cameras have not demonstrated that they result in a material decrease in property damage and bodily injury," said Steve Bach, the mayor of Colorado Springs.
Charles Territo, a spokesman for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based American Traffic Solutions Inc., said the company's cameras were effective and remain popular. "Fortunately, for every one city that decides not to use the cameras, there are 15 more that do," he said.
Chicago's new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, meanwhile, wants to double down, installing lots of speed cameras to catch people speeding near schools and parks. He insists it's strictly a "safety issue" and has nothing to do with the huge budget gap he's trying to close. Number of pedestrians killed by speeding cars in Chicago near schools and parks in one recent year: 12 (which represents a small fracture of the number of pedestrian accidents city-wide). By one estimate that I read, almost 40% of the city would be close enough to schools and parks in Chicago to become eligible for speed cameras.
Sure sounds like a money-grab to me.
City councilors voted Monday night to remote all photo enforcement. The end of the red light cameras also means the end of photo enforcement speed vans in school and construction zones.
The money grab is extremely obvious when they reduce the time the light is yellow. That is a safety risk, causes people to jump on the brakes, but it has reportedly happened. I wouldn't be surprised if that happens in Chicago.
A money grab in a fine city like Chicago? Never!
(heh heh heh)
Many towns and cities here in Maryland are now installing speed cameras since the state has OK'd them for areas around school zones. For small towns, the area encompasses the whole town. At least there's a 10mph grace window, and they don't seem to be being abused like red light cameras have been (shortened yellow, turn of red, etc.).
I'm not a lawyer but I cannot understand how the owner of a vehicle can be given a ticket when it's not shown he/she was the driver. Is this due process? How about confronting your accuser?
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