The use of red-light cameras by municipalities can be a divisive issue among the motoring public, with those opposed to the cameras claiming that local governments’ primary motivation for using those devices is to increase revenues, while those supporting the use of red cameras say they have reduced automobile accidents and saved lives.
Photo by J.J. Smith The latest round of debate on that issue was fueled, in part, by a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report—Effects of Red Light Camera Enforcement on Fatal Crashes in Large U.S. Cities—which says red-light cameras saved 159 lives from 2004 through 2008 in 14 of the biggest U.S. cities.
Officials in communities that have red-light cameras seem to be unanimous in claiming that red-light cameras are responsible for fewer accidents at the intersections where they are deployed. Yet, in many of those communities there are vocal opponents who say the fines are too high—some fines can reach $500 per infraction—and who question the safety motive for having the cameras.
That has caused some communities—such as Murrieta, Calif.—to respond by making public the money collected in fines. The Murrieta Police Department says fines collected from the 8,500 tickets issued over five years totaled $261,750. However, some of the fine money goes to Riverside County, and that, combined with the monthly cost of leasing its cameras—$5,395 per month—left Murrieta with a five-year total of $90,746. Murrieta officials cite the relatively low amount that remains as proof the project is a safety program, and not a revenue generator.
Nonetheless, some Murrieta residents opposed to the use of red-light cameras are attempting to get a voter initiative on the ballot asking to ban the use of red-light cameras. While not a direct response to the ballot initiative effort, Murrieta’s City Council now says it is considering donating all of the money collected from red-light camera fines to charity, but it had not made a final decision as of press time.
Of course, both those opposed and supportive of redlight camera use can be found on the Internet, and both make compelling arguments.
The website “highwayrobbery.net” provides a voluminous amount of information on red-light cameras, and like the website’s name implies, it is not a fan.
A section of the website that provides evidence to support the claim red-light cameras are actually moneymakers for a municipalities, is the “snitch ticket” section. According to the website, a snitch ticker is not a ticket at all, but a document that looks like a ticket and is designed to get the owner of the vehicle to say who was driving the auto at the time the infraction occurred. In those instances, the police need the driver’s identity because the operator cannot be identified in the photo. The question the website raises (and it is a good one) is; if red-light cameras are truly not revenue generators, then why employ such an elaborate deception to identify the driver?
Of course there is the other side, as demonstrated on the website for the Traffic Safety Coalition. On that organization’s website is a testimonial by Paul and Sue Oberhauser, whose daughter Sarah was killed in 2002 by a driver who ran a red light. The Oberhausers say red-light cameras “are tools used by law enforcement officials to deter people from speeding and running red lights. The use of these cameras sends a clear message: there is no excuse for disregarding traffic safety laws.”