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More than half the states in the U.S. have red-light ca... More than half the states in the U.S. have red-light cameras. (gsbrown99)
A consumer watchdog group says municipalities are signing contracts that force them to write a certain number of tickets on drivers who run red lights, a situation that jeopardizes safety and puts profits ahead of citizens' interests.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group says that when some municipalities sign contracts with vendors to provide red-light cameras, they end up with agreements that privatize traffic law enforcement in a way that does not prioritize safety. Some contracts split ticket revenue 50/50, with half going to the vendor and the other half going to the municipality. So to make up for the fact that they are giving away half their ticket revenue, municipalities write more tickets.

"Automated traffic ticketing tends to be governed by contracts that focus more on profits than safety," said Jen Kim of the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group.

Profits Over Safety

The recently-released US Public Interest Research Group, titled Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead, points out that half of all states use some kind of camera system to enforce driving laws. But their presence is increasingly controversial.

Why? Because although running red lights is dangerous -- it accounts for 2% of fatal accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration -- red light cameras may actually cause crashes. Cautious drivers slam on the brakes at yellow lights, increasing the incidents of rear-end accidents.

The best way to make red lights safer is to lengthen the amount of time the yellow light stays illuminated. But when municipalities suddenly get into the business of making money off tickets, sometimes towns shorten yellow light times.

That's what happened in Glassboro, N.J., last year. After the former mayor of a neighboring town got a red-light ticket driving through the town, it was discovered that yellow lights were shorter than the federal minimum of 4 seconds.

Economic Burden

Since the economic collapse in 2008 that slammed property values, municipalities have collected less taxes from property owners in their towns. To close that gap, they either need to cut spending or raise revenue. Red-light cameras appear to be one way to keep revenue flowing.

The pool of money from red-light tickets is tempting. The contracts often ask very little of municipalities, other than encouraging them to keep writing tickets. In some "cost-neutral" contracts, cities don't have to pay a vendor fee every month if the cost of the ticket revenue is enough to cover the fee. If the towns fall short, they owe the contractor money.

Some contracts give the vendors a lot of power: Walnut, Calif., for example, signed a contract that would penalize the town for waiving more than 10 percent of violations identified by the camera. Sometimes vendors veto camera locations if they don't think the spot will earn them enough money, the report said. Cash-strapped municipalities are often trapped in the the arrangement, forced to pay penalties if they cancel their contract early.

Powerful Influence

Private vendors like Redflex and American Traffic Solutions have publicly resisted programs that have drivers' best interest in mind. In Tempe, Ariz., Redflex filed a lawsuit against the city for $1.3 million, saying a program that allowed drivers to avoid fees by attending driving school violated its contract with the city. In California, Bell Gardens agreed to a contract with Redflex that penalizes the city if it chooses to alter the length of its yellow lights.

Sometimes camera vendors become powerful lobbiers. In 2011, camera vendors employed nearly 40 lobbyists in Florida, whose agenda included killing a bill that would have required municipalities to adopt long yellow light times. Longer yellow lights would have increased intersection safety but lowered revenue. Red light vendors have gone as far to create and fund organizations such as the National Coalition for Safer Roads, that pose as grassroots civic groups and advocate for the red light cameras.

But some regions are starting to wake up to the pitfalls of contracting out red light tickets.

A dozen cities and nine states have bans on the cameras.This summer Houston became yet another U.S. city to ban red light cams, on the coattails of Los Angeles, which had a similar decision. But the surveillance devices are widespread in Washington, D.C. and set to increase in New York.

Bottom-line: Municipalities are forced by economic desperation into revenue-generating contracts with red-light camera vendors that prioritize revenue over safety. This privatization of red-light contracts proves increasingly invasive over the conduct of law and controversial.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      $$$$$ thats all that matters. Note the insurance companies are silent on this one? $$$$$$ Here in central Forida it is also about stoping behind the white line or else! Another fine example. The home of the free!
      • 3 Years Ago
      One day it's gunna happen where people in masse stop paying this kind of stuff. Cities keep cutting police officers and there's no way they could muster up the force to collect. System's gunna break
      • 3 Years Ago
      Chicago is modifying these cameras to include automatic tickets for speeders. Talk about money grubbing. That's the Chicago Democratic Machine political way of doing things. Of course there will be waivers for friends of the Mayor, Aldermen, etc. ...... I can't wait to see all the accidents when an area that is 35mph all of a sudden drops to 20 mph without warning.
      Captain Wes
      • 3 Years Ago
      WHY NOT... lease the cameras and software from the vendors, for a flat fee, and let the municipality collect 100% of the fines? Then they could waive what they deemed allowable, as well as set their own yellow timers. Answer: Against the morals of the GOTP.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Our city tried red light cameras for a few months at 4 intersections and decided it wasn't making any difference and that it was too expensive. So they pulled them. The only thing that really makes any difference is people having enough respect for others to drive safely (and sharing the road, giving right of way as required) but unfortunately, a lot of people are oblivious to anyone else in the world. Nearly every accident is due to driver error--and completely preventable.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Where i live, around 3:00 in the morning, the light doesn't turn green. It forces drivers to run the light. There isn't a camera, so we aren't being scammed there, but it is still a safety issue. The Pedestrian lights (WALK DON"T WALK) Also don't work. It makes crossing the street dangerous.
      • 3 Years Ago
      In Florida many cities are going to these cameras. They claim it is a safety issue and they are not going to cost the cities any money because the private companies pay all the cost and the cities just rake in the money. Of course the money they plan to receive gets their undivided attention. Some cities are finding out that the projected money these private companies are claiming are highly inflated. The claim that the reason for the cameras is safety. It is turning out the cameras may be causing more accidents. What is up with that? I also question the fact that there wasn't competative bids for the installation companies. What is up with that? I predict that these cameras will turn out to be a boondoggle that we all will regret.
        • 3 Years Ago
        What would help in Florida is NOT automatically renewing driver's licenses for people in their 80's.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Obama lights: I call stoplights this because they are for change. And not in your favor. I think there should be 2 yellow lights on traffic lights so an individual can have a second shot at getting through the damn thing. I also believe these municipalities are in league with the gas stations because in a town like Rockford Ill. where unless you takeoff & go faster than the 30-35mph speed limit you might make it through the next light as it's ready to turn red. Either way, an individual goes fast and risks a speeding ticket(or accident) as well as burning a huge amount of RPM's at which the city has doubled their money or tripled if they bone ya for zipping through a red light. Or start out normal at one light, go then stop at the next and repeat this process until you have either reached your destination or road rage. Bottom line: You and I are not winners in this game..
      • 3 Years Ago
      Our governments is putting greed before our safety, Imagine that... This is just one of many, many examples... I just love the Seat belts saves lives one also... True in the early when they became a compromixe law but todays cars are so much safer that in many areas of the country, data shows that you are actually in more danger of serious injury or death in an accident if you are wearing a seat belt... Check your DMV data base and see...
      • 3 Years Ago
      Homeland security my tuckass! Yet another prime example of our legal system hiding profiteering behind a humanitarian mask. Obviously these cameras are a very predatory way to boost revenue, and it doesn't take a Doctorate in Physics to grasp that they actually cause more accidents than if they were not here at all. Paranoid drivers will absolutly slam on those breaks at yelllow lights possibly causing more rear impact accidents and maybe even losing control over their own vehicle and endangering even more lives. Those that chance the red light will wonder for months ahead about whether or not they'll find a ticket in their mail box one day. I also feel like the police should be ashamed of themselves. For all the money that taxpayers shell out to keep them on the payroll, and in force, the least they could do is issue a ticket in person. Furthermore, I disagree with removing human discretion from our laws and placing it in the hands of a camera owned by a company with a private agenda. I also find it apalling that it took a mayor in N.J. to be the dupe to raise an eyebrow at the ethics of this situation. If the mayor had been pulled over the cops would have shook his hand and let him slide. Law without disretion is a double edged sword.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I totally agree. Plus, ever hear of 'proceeding safely through the intersection' if you are unable to safely stop in time? Well with these cameras there is no opportunity to do that without a hefty fine. And if you are pulling a trailer or have a big truck it can take even longer to stop. That leaves drivers of these set ups to either drive way under the speed limit and block traffic in order to be able to stop in time for a short yellow light, or risk speeding through an intersection with a red light. So you could conceivably get a ticket for either impeding traffic or running a red light--not really a choice at all. Then, when winter hits, ANYONE could slide through an icy intersection (especially if it is on a hill) but still be ticketed essentially just for being out when the roads turned icy. BIG BROTHER GO HOME (AND STAY THERE!)!
      • 3 Years Ago
      Most laws state that if a driver is in an intersection, making a left waiting for traffic to open, they are not ticketed. I learned many years ago that the yellow light had 4 seconds. Yellow means be prepared to stop, and not go like hell !!!!!
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