Red light camera use growing, despite public opposition

By   /   February 27, 2013  /   No Comments

HARRISBURG – More states are legalizing the use of red light cameras, despite concerns from the public about their use.

GROWING: Red light enforcement cameras, like this one in Ohio, are being adopted by more state and local governments.

GROWING: Red light enforcement cameras, like this one in Ohio, are being adopted by more state and local governments.

Stateline, a nonprofit news organization funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, takes a look at the steady march of red light cameras – despite widespread disapproval of the devices among the public. Reporter Daniel Vock cites data from the National Conference of State Legislatures indicating that more than 100 bills in 22 states expanding the use of red light cameras have been introduced this year.

Here’s a sampling from the must-read article:

New Jersey Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon says the people in his state have had enough. Nothing, he says, has generated more feedback in his five years as a legislator than his fight against the cameras.

“People realize the government is institutionalizing a system to rip them off,” says O’Scanlon, a Republican. The public is upset and problems in New Jersey led to a brief suspension of its traffic cameras last summer….

…. Despite the backlash, traffic cameras keep spreading. As recently as 2000, only 25 communities had red-light cameras, compared to more than 500 now.”

Advocates for red light cameras point to studies showing that they reduce serious accidents – though opponents counter with other studies that show they actually increase the overall frequency of accidents, mostly because they encourage drivers to slam on their brakes for fear of getting a ticket.

In Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Portland, Ore., and elsewhere, investigations have shown increases in accidents after red light cameras are installed.

Watchdog.org’s Ken Ward uncovered a massive scam in Virginia Beach, Va., where officials were shortening the timing of yellow lights in order to increase violations and fine revenue.

Florida is attempting to ban the use of those cameras completely - the sponsor of the bill to do so calls them “a scam on poor people.

And Chicago recently suspended their red light camera program after RedFlex, a red light camera company, was placed under investigation for allegedly bribing city officials with “free trips to the Super Bowl and other sporting events,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

There are also plenty of constitutional questions about the use of these cameras to issue tickets – mostly having to do with due process and the opportunity to confront your accuser in open court, which is impossible when dealing with a machine.

There is also mounting evidence that the cameras are ineffective revenue tools, unless corruption or shortened yellow lights are involved. A study by AAA last year found revenue from fines drops off significantly after the first year or two as drivers become accustomed to where cameras are located.  That means cities have to either continuously expand the deployment of the electronic eyes (as Philadelphia has done) or cut off their camera programs after a few years.

Eric Boehm is a civil liberties reporter for Watchdog.org and bureau chief for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com.

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Eric is a reporter for Watchdog.org and former bureau chief for Pennsylvania Independent. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he enjoys great weather and low taxes while writing about state governments, pensions, labor issues and economic/civil liberty. Previously, he worked for more than three years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covering Pennsylvania state politics and occasionally sneaking across the border to Delaware to buy six-packs of beer. He has also lived (in order of desirability) in Brussels, Belgium, Pennsburg, Pa., Fairfield, Conn., and Rochester, N.Y. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and elsewhere. He received a bachelor's degree from Fairfield University in 2009, but he refuses to hang on his wall until his student loans are fully paid off sometime in the mid-2020s. When he steps away from the computer, he enjoys drinking craft beers in classy bars, cheering for an eclectic mix of favorite sports teams (mostly based in Philadelphia) and traveling to new places.

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