Six months after New Jersey red light cameras go dark, world hasn't ended

Posted: 2015-06-25

By Josh Kaib | Watchdog Arena | June 17, 2015

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Shutterstock Image

MARKET CRASHED: When New Jersey’s red light camera program expired six months ago, both local governments and industry lost a significant source of cash.

Red light cameras were supposed to reduce crashes in New Jersey and make people safer, but since cameras stopped issuing tickets, pedestrians and drivers may actually be less likely to get into an accident.

The red light camera lobby warned of the dire consequences if New Jersey’s cameras went dark. And in the six months since, they claim Jersey drivers are back to their old ways, running red lights with reckless abandon.

In the first three months after the cameras went dark, red light running reportedly surged in one city. The Traffic Safety Coalition, a group that includes red light camera company Redflex among its ‘partners,’ claims that red light running increased by 116 percent in three months.

The coalition even put out this video touting the numbers:

Though the cameras are no longer issuing tickets, they are still keeping track of violations:

According to data provided by the City of Newark Department of Engineering Division of Traffic and Signals, 47,445 violations were detected from February 16, 2015 to March 17, 2015 compared to just 21,965 violations during the same time period last year – an increase of 25,000 violations during a one month time period.

Watchdog reached out to Jack Nata, Manager of Newark’s Division of Traffic and Signals for comment. He directed us to the city’s press office, which said the numbers “seem to be accurate.” Final numbers are expected to be released soon.

Rick Short is the founder of Stop Robo Cops, an organization in New Jersey that was formed to oppose red light cameras. When I sent him the Traffic Safety Coalition’s claims, he expressed skepticism about the numbers.

“The Traffic Safety Coalition said an average of 20,000 tickets pre-camera [shutoff]…that would mean 20,000 times for 12 months, which comes out to 240,000 tickets per year. That’s impossible,” Short said. “Hey you’ve seen fake press releases before, but that has a video with it.”

According to Nicholas Juliano of the Traffic Safety Coalition, the police aren’t reviewing the footage, something they did when drivers were ticketed for violations. In certain cases, tickets would not be issued if a police officer reviewing the footage thought the camera detected a violation in error.

“Those detections counted as violations are instances in which cars entered the intersection while the light was red, and are based off of an analysis of all intersections equipped with traffic safety cameras,” Juliano said. “The police department is not reviewing footage, as they were during the period of enforcement.”

Rick Short from Stop Robo Cops has taken a look at crash data and found an interesting statistic of his own.

His analysis shows that in the first year of red light cameras, there was a 94 percent increase in accidents involving pedestrians.

“Remember, a pedestrian hit hurts more than a car because people don’t walk around with air bags on their bodies,” Short quipped.

Short analyzed data from 70 of the 73 red light camera intersections in the state and used the first year that cameras were in operation because others years’ data is not yet available.

Stop Robo Cops plans more data analysis in the coming months. You can expect the red light camera lobby to do the same.

But if the crash numbers seem complicated, one aspect of the red light camera program is pretty straight forward: the money. By allowing the program to expire, the legislature and governor removed a significant revenue stream for local governments. They want it back.

Back in January, NJ.com reported on the financials of red light cameras in Newark:

Before the cameras went dark last month, Newark brought in more than $34 million in revenue from the nearly 400,000 tickets paid since the program began five years ago, nearly half of which landed in municipal coffers, according to data provided on Friday by the city.

Of those fines paid between 2010 and 2014, the city received about $16.2 million, or roughly $3.2 million on average each year, the data shows.

The remaining dollars included about $4.5 million in revenue for the state and roughly $13.3 million for Redflex Traffic Systems, the Phoenix-based company contracted to maintain the city’s cameras, the data shows.

That’s a significant amount of lost revenue for all parties involved, so it should be no surprise that the Traffic Safety Coalition includes cities from across the country, including the City of Newark, and the company that provides the city’s cameras.

They want the cameras back, but for public safety or the money?

This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Arena. Find him on Twitter: @joshkaib

http://watchdog.org/224334/red-light-cameras-crash-data/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=wdarena_26

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