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Red-light cameras go dark across state


While the state collects millions of dollars from red-light cameras at intersections, a few California cities are starting to question whether the safety benefits are worth the high cost to their own coffers.

Loma Linda is the latest city to drop their red-light camera program. "Ding dong, the witch is dead," Mayor Rhodes Rigsby told the Redlands Daily Facts after the city ended use of the cameras. Rhodes has been a vocal opponent of the program, calling on San Bernardino and Los Angeles to follow this lead.

Over the last five years, Loma Linda brought in around $200,000 from the project, the paper reported. But the bulk of the ticket fines went to the state or to Redflex, the Australia-based company that operates the cameras. "For that $200,000, we took $15 million out of the local economy" in ticket fines, the Daily Facts quoted Rigsby as saying.

Whittier shuttered its program in November, choosing not to renew its contract with Nestor Traffic Systems, citing no improvement in traffic safety and declining revenue, the Whittier Daily News reported.

Because of a state law passed in 2004, renewing the contract would have meant paying Nestor a flat fee instead of a percentage of each ticket – not a good deal for the city, Whittier interim Police Chief Jeff Piper told the Daily News.

Anaheim voters have also turned off their red-light cameras, voting in November to ban them and other automated systems. The measure passed by an overwhelming 73 percent.

“Anaheim’s voters recognized that red-light cameras are not a proven deterrent to traffic violations or traffic accidents, and I happen to agree with that assessment,” Mayor Curt Pringle told the L.A. Times.

Other cities have rejected automatic ticketing programs as well, including Union City near San Jose, Yucaipa and Costa Mesa, Cupertino, Compton, El Monte, Fairfield, Fresno, Fullerton, Indian Wells, Irvine, Maywood, Montclair, Moreno Valley, Paramount, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, Roseville, San Carlos, Santa Fe Springs, Santa Maria, Santa Rosa and Upland.

The backlash is not just in California. Recently, Houston also passed a ballot initiative putting an end to red-light cameras. The Houston Police Department and many city council members support using the cameras, but they’re in the minority.

"All they talk about is the money shortfall. They aren’t talking about how many lives have been saved. They are not talking about how many accidents have been reduced. They are only talking about one thing and one thing only and that is what it is always about, it always was about the money," Michael Kubosh, with Citizen Against Red-light Cameras, told local reporters.

In Los Angeles, City Controller Wendy Greuel released a report [PDF] saying the city's red-light camera program is actually costing the city money:

Our audit disclosed that the (red-light program) has not provided additional revenue to the city. Because the city’s share of citation revenue is only about one-third of the fine amount, and many citations are either never paid or adjudicated without a payment due, we found the city received only $2.3 and $3 million from the (program) during 2008 and 2009, respectively. When compared to a conservative estimate of the costs incurred by the city to implement the program, the (program) actually cost the city approximately $1.5 million in 2008 and $1 million in 2009.

Of the $446 ticket drivers receive, only $157 goes to the city while the county gets $74 and the state $215, according to Greuel's report. On top of this, many tickets are never paid, party because failure to do so does not result in a suspension of license but also because 67 percent of tickets were mailed to people making legal right turns on red.

Greuel's study found no improvement to traffic safety due to the program.

Studies in Arizona [PDF], New Mexico [PDF], and Canada [PDF] have gone further, finding that red-light cameras can actually cause accidents because drivers often stop abruptly to avoid a ticket, leading to rear end collisions.

Back in Loma Linda, similar statistics proved the demise of the program. Eighty percent of the traffic tickets produced by the cameras were for legal right turns on red.

"I believe these red-light cameras are ways for city governments to legally extort money from their citizens," Mayor Rigsby told KABC.


Filed under: Public Safety, Daily Report


Comments are closed for this story.
RobertM468's picture
This is such a biased article, I hardly know where to begin. There are many studies that show that red-light camera enforcement reduces red light running and reduces intersection collisions. A study this year by the Kansas City Star newspaper showed that in Kansas City, MO at intersection where red-light cameras were installed, collisions overall declined by 26%, collisions causing injury declined by 42%, and collisions caused by drivers running red lights declined by 67%. A recent report from Columbus, Ohio showed that the more-dangerous right angle (T-bone) collisions declined by 80% at intersections with camera enforcement. The link in the article listed for Arizona is only a study for Peoria a Phoenix suburb of 142,000. Scottsdale, a larger Phoenix suburb found a 12% reduction in collisions at camera enforcement intersections. And there are many more studies with similar results.
Magnus's picture
It's not rocket science to see that enforcing traffic laws deters reckless driving and prevents collisions. Red light cameras are far more effective (and yes efficient) at providing that enforcement so why would we tie the hands of law enforcement by stopping them from using the latest technology to privide us with that deterrence?
justin900's picture
The reason cameras are not working is because the true intent of the cities that deploy them are not genuine. If safety was a priority then the majority of the citations issued would not be for rolling right turns at 5mph. Cities that take their program seriously and focus on safety probably show a reduction in accident rates. But this right turn nonsense is only for the purposes of revenue generating.Also, what needs to be taken into account is the fact that some cities have been caught lowering their yellow light times following the implementation of the cameras. This, I suspect, is the real reason why accident rates have not changed or have gone up.
freedomminute's picture

The only situations where a red light camera could possibly be of any benefit are where the yellow light is too short and the all red phase is insufficient.  Most red light violators (over 80%) cross the limit line within the first 1/8 to 1 second of the light turning red.  And most of them do that because they are caught in the dilemma zone when a too short yellow light is illuminated.  According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ kinematical formula, you are supposed to use the 85th percentile speed of free flow traffic approaching the intersection to set the yellow time correctly and eliminate the dilemma zone.  Most jurisdictions set the yellow based on the speed limit which often doesn’t reflect the true speed of the vehicles on the road.  Therefore some amount of drivers will always violate the red unintentionally. 

Additionally, even when the time is set correctly, drivers are not robots or computers and often misjudge whether or not they are too close to stop comfortably or too far to make it through.  Again, this causes unintentional violations.  When the yellow timing and all red phase are set correctly, there is no need for red light cameras.  Plus, common sense will tell you that red light cameras, which at best will prevent a small number of drivers from “trying to beat the light” when they shouldn’t, can’t prevent broadside collisions because those are caused by drivers who enter the intersection well after the light turns red and cross traffic has already started.  Red light cameras have no effect on this type of violation because it usually occurs due to driver impairment, fatigue, or distraction.

And before you claim that drivers should just go the speed limit, remember that the speed limit should also be based on the 85th percentile speed of free flow traffic which is the safest speed according to what the traffic engineers tell us.  Ideally, the posted speed limit and the 85th percentile speed would be the same.  Often it is not and this is the explanation for most red light running.

Any jurisdiction that wants to improve safety need only time the yellow light and all red phase according to the ITE formulas.  They do not need to waste millions of dollars on red light cameras.

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