Some New Jersey Red Light Cameras May Be Inaccurate: What Drivers Need to Know
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on June 21st, 2012
As questions mount over the accuracy of a majority of red-light cameras used throughout intersections across New Jersey, the state has suspended the use of those devices that are under investigation, according to a story in The (Newark) Star-Ledger newspaper. The red-light cameras “have frustrated motorists while generating millions of dollars for towns,” the paper reported.
“Officials from the state Department of Transportation said 63 of the 85 red-light cameras in New Jersey — including all 19 in Newark — have not been tested to ensure yellow lights were timed in accordance with the statute that created the pilot program,” the story said. Until it’s determined if those 63 systems are working properly, traffic tickets will not be issued at those intersections.
But therein lies the rub.
“In the meantime, the cameras will remain on,” the story reports. “If the devices are found to be in compliance, violators would still be fined. If the traffic systems are not in compliance, DOT spokesman Joe Dee said, ‘we will shut down that camera.'”
That’s absurd. So instead of shutting the system and possible tickets down until they are checked out, the state will keep the data and could still fine you, which can’t exactly boost the confidence of the state’s drivers in the whole system.
The other 22 cameras operated by the state are working properly, according to the story, and are not being suspended. That means drivers can still get tickets at those locations.
“Under national standards, yellow lights are expected to stay lit one second for every 10 mph — or 3.5 seconds in the case of an intersection where the speed limit is 35 mph,” the paper reported. “But the statute that created New Jersey’s red-light camera program also calls for towns to study the speed at which vehicles approach the intersection before determining how long the yellow lights stay lit, taking into account the speed at which 85 percent of drivers travel through the intersection.”
Apparently, those local studies were not done for 63 of the 85 cameras in some 21 towns, making it questionable if they are properly calibrated and legal for enforcement purposes.
The newspaper published a list of the locations of all 63 red-light cameras being used in N.J. intersections.
The cameras that are under investigation for compliance are being used in Newark, Linden, Wayne, Palisades Park, Union Township and Springfield in Union County, Roselle Park, Rahway, Englewood Cliffs, Pohatcong, Piscataway, Edison, East Windsor, Lawrence, Cherry Hill, Stratford, Monroe, Brick, Glassboro, Jersey City (one camera of 13) and Woodbridge (one camera of four), according to the report. The 22 cameras that are in compliance include 12 in Jersey City, three in Woodbridge, four in Gloucester and one each in East Brunswick, New Brunswick and Deptford.
State officials in Newark told the Star-Ledger that all of the red-light cameras are set up properly and are in compliance but that the questions were raised by the state Department of Transportation.
Last fall, a consumer group, the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, criticized the red-light cameras as a threat to the public interest by putting the profits earned by municipalities over true public safety, according to another Star-Ledger story.
“The national report by the advocacy group also said municipalities should first investigate traffic-engineering solutions for problem intersections and roadways,” the story reported. “Jen Kim, of NJPIRG, said too many cities wrongly sign away power to ensure the safety of citizens by privatizing traffic law enforcement, and that the contracts with private companies focus more on profits than safety.”
A New Jersey Assemblyman, Declan O’Scanlon, has called the cameras “automatic taxing machines,” in an interview with the paper. “They’re ATMs in reverse — your money goes in and it never comes out.”
In a MyPhillyLawyer blog post early last year, we looked at the red-light camera issue closely. Some people believe that they’re 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. Others see them as revenue-enhancing tools used by police departments to bolster their ticket-writing coffers at the expense of privacy and due process for motorists.
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.
The problem, though, relates to questions about their accuracy and fairness to motorists.
That’s the issue with the current controversy and investigation in New Jersey, where the very compliance of 63 of the cameras is being called into question.
“The people who support the cameras say they’re all about public safety,” said John Bowman, communications director of the Waunakee, Wis.-based National Motorists Association, a membership group which opposes the use of the cameras. “It’s simply not true, and if that is the goal, red-light cameras are not the way to go about it.”
Most of the time, he said, these cameras increase accidents at intersections – primarily rear-end crashes – by causing motorists to stop suddenly due to fears of the cameras. “There’s plenty of evidence supporting this.”
The organization publishes a “fact sheet” listing their 10 primary objections to the devices, including that by using cameras, there are no certifiable witnesses to the alleged infractions. “Even in those rare instances where a law enforcement officer is overseeing a ticket camera, it is highly unlikely that the officer would recall the supposed violation. For all practical purposes, there is no “accuser” for motorists to confront, which is a constitutional right. There is no one that can personally testify to the circumstances of the alleged violation, and just because a camera unit was operating properly when it was set up does not mean it was operating properly when the picture was taken of any given vehicle.”
The investigation into the operation of the cameras in New Jersey should loudly tell us that we can’t have full confidence in the devices.
And that means that all drivers need to be aware and wary when they operate motor vehicles where the systems are being used.
If you are ticketed by a red-light camera, you should talk to an experienced attorney to get a legal opinion on how you should proceed.
We here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to help you with all of your legal questions,
When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer.