Red Light Cameras Could Be Bad Bet For Burbs

Eric Boehm is bureau chief/news reporter for Pennsylvania Independent

Eric Boehm is bureau chief/news reporter for Pennsylvania Independent

Red light cameras could be expanding across the border from Philadelphia into Montgomery County.

An ordinance approved by Abington Township last week would allow the municipality to become the first place outside of Philadelphia to deploy the red light enforcement cameras. The suburban township just north of the Philadelphia border plans to use the cameras at three busy intersections. But even the township’s deputy police chief doesn’t sound too convinced of the devices’ effectiveness.

“I hope the impact is that the red light violations decrease,” Abington police Deputy Chief Michael Webb told on Monday.

The state Department of Transportation still has to sign off on the plan.  Before it does so, it should consider some of the red flags raised by the state government and independent observers of the Philadelphia red light traffic camera program.

Legislation approved by the state government in 2012 allowed Pittsburgh and about a dozen municipalities in the Philadelphia suburbs to use red light cameras. Previously, only Philadelphia was authorized to use the cameras.  The city began installing cameras in 2005 and now has them at 19 intersections.

While Philadelphia has generated more than enough money from violations to cover the $6 million annual price tag of their camera system, a report from the state Transportation Advisory Commission warns that smaller municipalities would not make enough money to pay for a similar program.

“According to PennDOT calculations, only the City of Pittsburgh would have the traffic environment necessary to make (red light cameras) a sustainable program,” the commission wrote.

The TAC report also shows that violations from red light cameras drop off quickly — with as much as a 50 percent reduction in violations in only one year.

A study by AAA Mid-Atlantic echoed those concerns. In Delaware there has been a 41 percent reduction in red light violations at intersections with cameras installed and only a 7 percent reduction in accidents, according to AAA.

“The revenue decreases over time as people get used to the cameras,” said Jenny Robinson, spokeswoman for AAA. “To keep the program sustainable, you have to keep adding intersections, and I think that’s going to be a tough balancing act for some municipalities.”

The analysis from AAA shows that Philadelphia is making enough profit to be sustainable for now, but in the long term the city might have to put cameras at new intersections to keep generating enough money.

Advocates of red light cameras point to studies from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that indicate the use of cameras reduces the number of high speed collisions and fatalities at intersections.

But groups like the National Motorists Association warn against red light cameras because they violate drivers’ privacy and create legal problems with due process for offenders.

After all, how can you confront your accuser if the accuser is a camera? More safety is always a good thing, but there are better ways to achieve those goals.

Station a police officer at dangerous intersections or redesign the intersections to reduce the number of serious crashes.

Red light cameras are a boon to the private companies that get the contracts, but a concern for motorists everywhere.

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