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Cameras may target red light runners in more PA cities

By   /   November 14, 2011  /   4 Comments

Opponents say longer yellow lights would have same benefits, but cities want revenue
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Drivers in Pennsylvania could face $100 fines if they fail to beat a yellow light, as lawmakers consider bringing red light cameras to more than a dozen cities.

“The objective should be to focus on slowing motorists down or to stop them from running red lights in the first place in order to prevent crashes from occurring and pedestrians from being struck,” said Ron Kosh, vice president for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which advocates for drivers and greater traffic safety.
Last year, red light runners accounted for 57,000 crashes, or 25 percent, of all traffic fatalities in Pennsylvania, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Kosh said AAA believes red light camera systems can improve the safety of roads, but they should not replace properly engineered intersections with well-timed traffic signals.
The law that allows red light cameras in Philadelphia is set to expire at the end of this year. In addition to extending the legality of those cameras until 2017, the bill will allow Pittsburgh and Scranton as well as smaller cities with a full-time police force and a population of more than 18,000 to install the cameras.
Opponents of the automatic camera systems argued that better traffic engineering and the use of longer timed yellow lights would have the same impact on motorist safety without hitting drivers in the wallets.
James Walker, a board member of the National Motorists Association, which advocates for drivers’ rights and opposes automated enforcement like red light cameras and speed cameras, said governments “become addicted” to revenue from red light cameras.
“Reduced violations with safer, longer yellows are counter-productive to the profits for the camera companies or the cities or government authorities involved,” Walker said.
Richard Retting, a consulting engineer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research nonprofit funded by auto insurance companies, said longer yellow lights are effective but do not eliminate the need for better enforcement.
He said the impact of new red light cameras and traffic lights is the same. Overall, they increase safety, but initially, rear-ended crashes increase as drivers adapt to them.
“If the worst red light cameras can be accused of is mimicking the effect of a traffic light, we view that as a beneficial trade-off,” Retting said.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Rick Geist, R-Blair, said yellow light timing is as important as red light cameras for increasing safety.
Philadelphia is the only city that uses red light cameras, after the state approved a pilot program for the city in 2002. All revenue from the cameras is split equally between the city and state governments and must be used to increase traffic safety by building sidewalks and crosswalks as well as improving visibility at difficult intersections. 
Under the legislation expanding the use of the cameras, the same guidelines would be followed for the revenue.
The Philadelphia cameras have generated a total of $8.4 million since 2002.
The purpose of red light cameras is to catch irresponsible drivers in the act of intentionally running a red light and not to generate revenue for city or state government, Kosh said. 

"The only true success measure is whether the number of crashes and fatalities from red light running has declined,” he said, not the number of tickets given out or revenue brought in.

Geist called the Philadelphia program a success, and said those statistics did not factor in the increase in traffic during the program, which caused total crashes to increase but the rate of crashes to decline where the cameras were installed.
The Philadelphia cameras are operated by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, part of the city government.
Geist said the camera programs will be audited and state governments will oversee their use.
“It’s very well monitored, and there is no way that anyone in Pennsylvania can make the claim that it is for revenue enhancement,” Geist said.
State Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Luzerne, said cameras should target unsafe intersections.
“We ought to carefully examine whether the program in Philadelphia can be duplicated in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre,” Carroll said.
Last month, the state Senate approved the red light camera bill with a vote of 35-14. The House did not take any action on the bill Monday. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, is the sponsor of the bill.