Mixed reviews for red-light camera use in N.J.

A sign warns of red-light camera enforcement on Route 1 in Lawrence Township, N.J.
A sign warns of red-light camera enforcement on Route 1 in Lawrence Township, N.J. (MEL EVANS / Associated Press)
Posted: April 20, 2013

Red-light cameras have mixed results in their brief history in New Jersey, with rear-end crashes up at camera-equipped intersections and right-angle crashes down, according to data gathered by the state Transportation Department.

The Christie administration said Thursday it would permit no new installations of red-light cameras because the pilot program that began using them in 2009 will end next year.

Red-light cameras have been controversial in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and elsewhere in the country. Supporters, including many police departments, say the cameras improve safety. Opponents argue the cameras are more about increasing revenue for local municipalities than reducing crashes.

In New Jersey, cameras are operating at 76 intersections in 25 municipalities.

Three Camden County towns (Cherry Hill, Gloucester Township, and Stratford) and three Gloucester County towns (Glassboro, Deptford, and Monroe Township) are in New Jersey's pilot program, and red-light cameras in those towns generated $9.5 million in fines in their first two years of operation.

In Cherry Hill, where cameras are in operation at the intersection of Springdale Road and Route 70, the number of accidents dropped by one, from 54 to 53, in the year that ended in April 2012.

"The first year is the educational year, and we don't think the first-year data is very meaningful," said township spokeswoman Bridget Palmer. "We still think it's an important tool in our overall traffic-calming plan." Statewide data show the total number of crashes at red-light intersections with at least a year of operation increased slightly in 2011, from 577 to 582.

Right-angle crashes, usually considered more dangerous, declined from 60 to 51, while rear-end collisions increased from 286 to 343.

Experts say rear-end collisions often rise with the installation of red-light cameras, as motorists hit the brakes suddenly to avoid a camera-generated fine.

The "crash-severity cost," an estimate of the monetary cost of crashes that includes property damage and medical expenses, increased by $1.2 million at red-light camera intersections. At nearby intersections without red-light cameras, the crash-severity cost was up $315,000.

"The data appear to be conflicting," the department said in its November 2012 report, "with positive decreases in the number of right-angle crashes [at red-light intersections] combined with unexpected increases in the severity of those crashes."

The department noted that at two intersections in Newark where cameras had collected two years' worth of data by the end of 2011, the total number of crashes declined from 26 to 20 in the second year.

"It is not prudent at this time to draw any final conclusions," the department said, concluding more study was needed.

However, both supporters and opponents of the cameras cite the report to tout their positions.

American Traffic Solutions, the Scottsdale, Ariz., company that installs and operates the cameras for many communities, said the report showed the cameras "continue to enhance road safety."

State Sen. Michael Doherty (R., Warren-Hunterdon), who has proposed a ban on the cameras, said the Christie administration's decision not to expand the use of cameras is "further evidence that New Jersey's red-light camera pilot program is a failure."

"Reports have indicated, and local officials have acknowledged, that the use of red-light cameras does not improve safety," he said.

In addition to proposing a ban on the cameras, Doherty this year introduced a bill to require motorists' fines go to the state's Highway Safety Fund instead of to towns.

The five-year red-light camera pilot program, which began in 2009, is to end in December 2014.


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com

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