Red light cameras: safety boon or police revenue enhancer?
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on February 24th, 2011
In communities across the U.S., red light cameras in highly-traveled intersections continue to cause controversy.
Are they great devices that help to save lives by making drivers less likely to speed through intersections against red lights, knowing that they can be ticketed and subject to hefty fines?
Or are they revenue-enhancing tools used by police departments to bolster their ticket-writing coffers at the expense of privacy and due process for motorists?
It’s a question being asked recently in Connecticut where last month state legislators began again looking at the issue to determine whether the cameras should be installed in metro areas around the state, according to a story on the Government Technology website.
“Since 2005, 15 bills in Connecticut regarding the subject have been proposed, but none has passed,” according to the Government Technology story. “State law doesn’t allow local governments to install red light camera systems on their own. Some state legislators worry that the cameras threaten privacy and individual rights and result in unfair citations, such as a car owner getting ticketed when another person is driving the car.”
Pennsylvania is one of about 23 states plus the District of Columbia that allow the use of red light cameras, according to the non-profit Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). The cameras can capture images of license plates and vehicles that speed through intersections when traffic lights turn red.
In Pennsylvania, photos taken with the cameras include fines of $100 or more but the violations aren’t assessed points against a motorist’s driving record – which differs from most other moving violations. That makes it easier to understand the argument of critics – that the cameras are to help generate additional revenues while not really penalizing drivers for dangerous behavior.
So far, the cameras are used mainly in Philadelphia, but other parts of the Commonwealth have been exploring the use of red light cameras.
And those tickets issued for red light violations in Philadelphia? Well, they aren’t even noted in a motorist’s driving record, according to the GHSA. That really doesn’t sound like safety is the real motivation here, does it?
Supporters of the cameras point to safety statistics, such as a new study released earlier this week by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which concluded that red light cameras definitely reduce fatalities and injuries in red light crashes at intersections.
“The average annual rate of all fatal crashes at signalized intersections decreased by 14% for cities with camera programs and increased slightly (2%) for cities without cameras,” the report said. “After controlling for population density and land area, the rate of fatal red light running crashes during 2004-08 for cities with camera programs was an estimated 24% lower than what would have been expected without cameras.”
Meanwhile, a recent survey of 600 registered voters in Missouri found that 71% of them support the use of red light cameras when deployed in dangerous intersections, according to a press release distributed this week by PR Newswire. The data, collected in a report for the National Coalition for Safer Roads, also indicated that 58% of the voters questioned believe that the cameras make the roads safer, the study said.
One national critic, though, says the cameras are unfair because the laws on the devices vary so much from state to state that they leave motorists at a disadvantage.
About 1,200 to 1,300 municipalities across the U.S. use red light cameras, said Jeff Cohn, the founder and CEO of PhotoEnforced.com, a website dedicated to mapping the locations of red light cameras. The 10-year-old website uses data gleaned from “crowd-sourcing” – information that’s submitted directly to the site by motorists who report the installation of the cameras.
So what’s a motorist in Pennsylvania or anywhere else supposed to think about red light cameras?
Yes, there are most likely safety benefits to the devices. And yes, if they encourage some drivers to slow down and stop for red lights, then they are a good thing.
Also, if they prevent even one death or serious injury, they are potentially priceless.
But as motorists, we all must also be a bit leery of the legal concerns and risks that the cameras can create for us. What if you loan your car to someone else and they go through a red light camera and a violation is issued? Such a ticket will come to you in your name – the camera doesn’t have any way of knowing that you aren’t driving the car.
Yes, in Pennsylvania, you can defend yourself by explaining this kind of situation in court, but you then have to take the time and incur expenses to protect yourself.
So, yes, red light cameras can be a good deterrent, but they also have legal risks that you need to be aware of which can ultimately affect you.
If you are in a legal situation involving red light cameras, we here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to help you.
You want to go into any legal battle with the best representation you can obtain.
When losing isn’t an option, call MyPhillyLawyer.