Report questions motives for red-light cameras

| 10/28/2011

The latest report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group says red-light cameras and other types of automated enforcement are largely profit-driven instead of being about safety.

“Privatized traffic law enforcement should be used solely as a tool for enhancing traffic safety not as a cash cow for municipalities or private firms,” report author Phineas Baxandall stated.

In an interview with Land Line Now, Baxandall says about 700 municipalities use enforcement cameras. While PIRG doesn’t try to predict people’s motives, the group does question them.

“We never like to posit what people’s motives are, but it’s clear that there’s a lot of cities that are really desperate for revenue right now. The economic downturn has left a real revenue hole in their budgets,” Baxandall said. “And there’s a lot of slick lobbyists that are coming to them and telling them this is a win-win situation – that you can improve your traffic situation while filling your budget.

“We really think the budget side of this should not be a consideration for cities,” he continued. “The way they pick what intersections they do and the way they set their policies should not be concerned with revenue. It should really be all about preventing injuries.”

OOIDA has long believed that profit, not safety, drives the red-light camera industry. And Congress has questioned the motives behind the systems as well. In June 2010, the Highways and Transit Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on the subject.

Some studies have shown that crashes and injuries actually increased when cameras were put into use and then decreased when the cameras were taken away.

Then there are the contracts that call for revenue sharing between municipalities and camera vendors, something PIRG has called into question.

“The most problematic contracts require cities to share revenue with the camera vendor on a per-ticket basis or through other formulas as a percentage of revenue. In other words, the more tickets a camera system issues, the more profit the vendor collects,” Baxandall stated. Read the report here.

PIRG made 10 recommendations for municipalities to consider when studying whether to implement red-light cameras – ranging from transparency of contracts to alternatives to cameras such as better signage or longer yellow-light times.

Land Line Now Staff Reporter Reed Black contributed to this story.