New Jersey’s Red-Light Camera Program Under Fire

Data released by the New Jersey Department of Transportation this week suggest that traffic accidents and deaths have increased in intersections where red light cameras have been installed.

Because of this, state Sen. Mike Doherty has called for an end to the Garden State’s red light pilot program. The number of crashes at the specific intersection of the program increased from 577 to 582, and the total cost for all those collisions increased by $1,172,800—meaning Jersey drivers are looking even worse than usual, due to the government’s technological program.

“If the Legislature does not move to immediately terminate the pilot program in light of the new data confirming that cameras make intersections more dangerous, that will be proof positive that the real purpose of red light cameras is to give government another way to reach into your pocket through tickets and fines,” said Doherty.

Unfortunately, he may be right. And his rightness could have been predicted with utmost accuracy. Because red light cameras have failed again and again. We should know, because similar statistics in Philadelphia have shown red light cameras, which are run by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, continue to be dangerous.

Cameras were first installed in 2005 up in Northeast Philadelphia, and as a PW article from that time found, accidents immediately shot up: “Ninety-one auto accidents occurred at the intersection of Grant Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard between Feb. 23 and Sept. 4 [2005], including one fatal crash. The intersection was the scene of 82 accidents–one deadly–during this same time period in 2004, before the cameras existed, according to the Philadelphia Police Department.”

Then-Councilman Frank Rizzo Jr. noted at the time: “When drivers see a camera or even a police officer at an intersection, they do erratic things. They may stop quickly or turn to avoid getting a traffic ticket.”

More recently, police and PPA data has differed pertaining to local red light cameras’ effectiveness; police found last year that there were 1,982 accidents at intersections after red light cameras were installed, compared to 1,765 during the same time perios before the cameras watched. And the number of fatalities increased, too.

Pictured: A screen shoot of Philadelphia's red light cameras (and some in NJ)

Pictured: A screen shoot of Philadelphia's red light cameras (and some in NJ)

Philadelphia’s red light camera program is technically temporary, with Harrisburg taking the time to extend it when applicable. The cameras on the Boulevard and elsewhere have raised $15 million in revenue for the city—though about half the revenue raised goes to municipalities outside Philadelphia.

“It is absolutely no surprise that red light cameras in New Jersey have failed, just as they have everywhere else, in achieving their stated goal of improving driver safety,” said Doherty.

That said, the New Jersey report also found that once drivers get used to the cameras, the number of tickets at a given intersection drops. Two Newark intersections which had cameras for two years saw an 85 percent decrease in citations.

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