UNION COUNTY – The company that provides red light cameras to 18 of the 25 towns in the state’s pilot program, including Union, Linden and Rahway, blasted the latest claim by a legislator that yellow light timing is less than the state-mandated minimum.
American Traffic Solutions, which has more than 3,200 red light cameras installed throughout the nation, quickly responded to Monmouth County Republican Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon’s efforts to cast a critical eye on the controversial pilot program, particularly when it came to the forensic analysis performed by his expert, Barnet Fagel.
“Apparently there is no limit to what some are willing to say or do to manufacture outrage over what has otherwise been a very successful public safety initiative,” said Charles Territo, ATS Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, in a press release.
Territo maintained that the frame-by-frame analysis released last week by O’Scanlan, was, in fact, not accurate. The video made by Fagel showed the yellow light timing at eight intersections in New Jersey with red light cameras to be seriously flawed. O’Scanlan went public with this information last week, pointing out that the credibility of the program was “on life support.” He further noted the cameras were just another means for municipalities to make money.
ATS noted that New Jersey’s 2008 law enacting the red light pilot program specified that yellow light time be set to a minimum of three seconds if at least 85 percent of vehicle traffic approaching the traffic signal is traveling at 25 miles-per-hour or less. For each 5 mile per hour increase in a vehicle speed above 30 mph, the minimum duration of the yellow light must be increased by 0.5 seconds, according to New Jersey law. ATS said in July 2012 that the New Jersey Department of Transportation found all intersections with red light cameras to be in compliance with yellow light duration.
“In the analysis by Fagel, it appears the timer is arbitrarily started. However, when reviewing the video on a frame-by-frame basis, New Jersey’s amber times are revealed to be completely accurate. In several of the videos the timer is found to have either started late or stopped prior to the light turning red,” said Territo, adding “this clearly illustrates the errors in the analysis performed by the so called ‘traffic safety expert’ of a group known for its opposition to seat belts, speed limits, child safety seats, airbags and red light cameras.”
ATS is referring to the fact that Fagel is heavily involved with The National Motorists Association, which has been fighting red light cameras for more than a decade. The NMA maintained on their website that among other things, that there is a conflict of interest in companies similar to ATS which sell the equipment to municipalities and then also monitor it.
“A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it also may take a thousand words to explain what the picture really means,” the NMA website states, adding there is no accuser for motorists to confront, which is their constitutional right. The group also took issue with the time lag until a motorist is notified via mail of a violation, mentioning “there is no guarantee an accused motorist will even receive the ticket in the mail, let alone understand or know how to respond.”
The NMA also pointed out by the time the film is looked at and verified by the state, it could be a month or longer, making it difficult for a violator to even remember the circumstances of the violation. The organization believes there are better alternatives to red light cameras, such as improving intersection controls, specifically that they are properly engineered, installed and operated.
A report conducted in 2001 by the Office of the Majority Leader, U.S. House of Representative, shared similar sentiments.
The report, titled The Red Light Running Crisis, suggested that although red light cameras present “an attractive option for those interested in collecting additional revenue,” the way to solve the red light running crisis is by lengthening yellow light timing.
Towns like Union and Linden made well in excess of $1 million in revenue after the state and ATS received their cut of the pie. Since the pilot program began in New Jersey several years ago, questions have continued to surface over timing, reasoning behind the venture and if the cameras actually reduced accidents at intersections. These same questions were pondered in the federal report more than 10 years ago.
“The yellow indication is designed to warn a motorist approaching that the signal is about to turn red. The yellow light should be long enough for the approaching motorist to either come to a safe stop before the intersection or continue clear though the intersection before the red light appears,” the report indicated.
The report went on explain that inadequate yellow light timing will either prevent motorists from coming to a safe stop or force them to enter an intersection on a red light. Neither option should be considered acceptable, they said.
The report also delved into whether red light cameras were indeed timed correctly, specifically the yellow light, to allow enough time for a motorist to make it through an intersection. They found that the subject of timing “can be difficult and obscure.”
“Red light cameras present a perverse disincentive for local jurisdictions to fix intersections with excessive red light entries. It’s hard to fix a problem that brings in millions in revenue,” the report indicated, adding “red light cameras aren’t fixing a problem, they are creating one.”
And they do make money, according to information compiled by LocalSource a year after the cameras began operating. This type of revenue is not unique to New Jersey.
According to information obtained by this newspaper, approximately 50 cities across the nation issue tickets to motorists with red light cameras and this number is growing every day. In Washington, D.C. a single red light camera collected $1 million in revenue and it was expected $16 million in fines would be collected from the 37 cameras throughout the city.
In San Diego a single camera collected $6.8 million in revenue in 18 months, with all 19 red light cameras bringing in $30 million during the same period, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
The first year the program ran in New York City showed that 15 red light cameras racked up 168,471 tickets, with $5.4 million in fines collected. In 2001 the city collected $9 million in ticket revenue, according to New York City Department of Transportation records.
In addition the report also found that having offenders ticketed through the mail actually undermined vital constitutional protections in place.
“The right to face one’s accuser in court and the presumption of innocence form the bedrock of our judicial system,” the federal report said, adding that this was a federal issue, not just a local one.
Regardless of any ongoing controversy or disagreements regarding the red light cameras in use in Union County and the rest of the nation, ATS stands by their findings, using strong words for O’Scanlon.
“Further analysis of the amateur video shows what we’ve known to be the case all along,” said Territo of ATS. “The yellow light timing at New Jersey red light safety camera approaches always have been and always will be in compliance with state law.”