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Live traffic cameras -- helping or hindering driver safety
Jun 7,2012   
The red light traffic surveillance cameras used at busy intersections across the nation issue citations to drivers who run red lights. Sensors buried in the crosswalk trigger the cameras, which are mounted on traffic signals, to capture the date, time and speed of the red-light violating vehicle. Advocates of these live traffic cameras assert that the system is a cost-effective way to catch red light runners, make the roads safer, and allow law enforcement officials to focus on other tasks.

In December 2004, a study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council showed a reduction in vehicle crashes at nearly all of the red light surveillance intersections. Also, in a 2002 California audit of red-light cameras, accidents caused by drivers running red lights decreased with the live traffic camera installation. Opponents of the red light traffic cameras contend that the cameras are chiefly used as a money-making device, they give too much control to the live camera company, and they cause rear-end collisions because a driver may stop too abruptly before a red light.

Recently in Northern Virginia, the red light traffic camera program ended after a ten-year run. The state legislature opted not to renew the live traffic program, which issued drivers with $50 fines sent through the mail. Roughly 75% of those drivers paid the fine. State Senator, Jeannemarie Davis says, "It''s impossible to have enough police officers out to enforce red-light running. It clearly works. It clearly changes behavior."

Others might not agree. Many lawmakers from rural parts of Virginia voiced their concerns that the traffic cameras resembled "Big Brother" and that it was an expensive traffic program that did not recoup its costs. In fact, three of the six governments that implemented the surveillance program in Northern Virginia lots tens of thousands of dollars because the revenue did not cover the traffic program''s costs.

Administrators in California are studying some of the red light traffic program''s pitfalls that occurred in other Californian cities. For example, in San Diego a judge agreed that the live traffic company was given too much control, so a state law went into effect requiring live traffic camera companies to charge cities a flat rate, instead of a per-ticket commission. The law also requires that police officers review and approve the traffic citations. After San Diego''s red-light traffic program was revised, drivers stopped complaining about the cameras.

In order for the driver citations to be fair and accurate, a clear photo of the driver must be captured, along with the license plate. If the photo doesn''t match the owner of the vehicle, the driver should not be responsible for the ticket. Although most drivers can''t argue against a photo showing them running a light, some drivers will give valid excuses that may cause the police to re-evaluate the photos. For example, one driver in Montclair, California told the police officer she couldn''t see past a truck that turned in front of her on a double lane signal. The officer threw out her ticket.

The debate over the use of red light traffic cameras at intersections is far from over. Both sides have valid concerns that should be resolved with more study and research at cities where driver surveillance cameras are both showing positive and negative results.
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