By: Sharon Aron Baron
Thanks to your Mayor and city commissioners, an attempt at a quick revenue fix will soon appear in our city with the installation of red light cameras.
According to the Sun Sentinel, the first three of twenty will be installed Tamarac soon. All in the name of safety.
Forget about all those jaywalkers getting hit by cars…this isn’t going to save them. Nor is it going to improve the aesthetics of our city with their towering cameras hovering above our mildew-covered sidewalks where street vendors and panhandlers pose more of a traffic hazard than red-light runners.
No, there is no doubt that people that deliberately run red lights are a safety hazard, but the citizens of Tamarac have yet to receive what these so-called statistics are which led to this enormous financial and contractual undertaking with American Traffic Solutions to install 20 red light cameras in our city.
In the meantime, while Tamarac gets the first of their red light cameras, many cities are trying to get rid of theirs.
In February, the commissioners in Collier County on the West coast of Florida voted to remove all of its red light cameras and were met with applause from the audience according to Naples News.
Although the conversation was heated at times, the most compelling speaker on the issue was Florida Highway Patrol Officer Paul Henry, who told commissioners there was no change in the number of crashes before the cameras were installed and after the cameras were installed within an 18-month period.
Sadly, our city commissioners bought the sales pitch from the Arizona based American Traffic Solutions, that many other cities have: That by getting red light cameras, they are reducing the number of crashes.
Proponent of red light cameras, Vice Mayor Harry Dressler is even quoted in the Sun Sentinel saying, “Having the cameras promotes public safety,” he said. “It changes people’s behavior, and it reduces the number of crashes.”
Red light cameras that were installed in Trenton, NJ were supposed to reduce the number of crashes as well, but according to the Star-Ledger, the city has actually seen an increase in collisions according to a new state report.
A New Jersey Department of Transportation analysis of two dozen intersections that have had the cameras for at least a year found that accidents, particularly rear-end crashes, have increased, and the collisions are more costly.
Rear-end collisions at the intersections were up by 20 percent, from 286 the year before the cameras were installed to 343 the year after, according to the report. Overall, accidents increased from 577 crashes the year before the cameras were installed to 582 the year after. The “crash severity cost” which takes into account vehicle and property damage, emergency response and medical care increased by nearly $1.2 million after the cameras were installed.
“If you believe the hype of these cameras, accidents should be down across the board,” said state Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, a critic of the devices. “But it’s just not true.”
According to the Tampa Bay Times, city staffers in St. Petersburg apologized last December for not giving the City Council a key document about traffic crashes rising in a report about red light cameras.
“We had no intention to mislead the public,” said Joe Kubicki, director of transportation and parking management. “We don’t do that.” Kubicki took the blame for not disclosing that crashes jumped 10 percent at intersections with red light cameras in the past year.
There is good reason why our Mayor and commissioners may have been sold a bill of goods by American Traffic Solutions: They have been shown success stories manipulated by them.
Banthecams.org, a grassroots organization that was created to educate and equip local citizens with a way to combat the abuse of power being exercised by local and state governments with the regards to the use of electronic surveillance devices says that they have evidence that American Traffic Solutions misleads the public by changing or manipulating data it shares with the public and gives examples on its website.
For example, they say ATS embellishes their “success stories” by changing the definitions of an accident. For instance, one way is by changing an accident statistically, is to count it if it’s above $1,500 and not $500.
Another example was where a city was so desperate to show that these cameras work, that they only counted accidents as ‘accidents’ within 50 feet of the intersection. By using 50 feet instead of the transportation standard of 133 feet, they were able to more than halve their reported accidents at red light camera monitored intersections.
Another example was in Los Angeles they didn’t bring up what the causes of accidents were in their “success” claims. For instance, one LAPD claim was that five fatal accidents occurred at specific intersections before the red-light cameras were installed, and none occurred after.
The reality was that two of the five accidents were not red light related, the LAPD says, and a third involved a drunken driver who zipped through despite a camera there, mounted by a previous vendor. The fourth, “Caused by a young distracted driver,” likely would not have been prevented by a camera.
American Traffic Solution also has been reported to fudge their violation numbers before elections. According to TheNewspaper.com, Baytown, Texas, eased up on issuing red light camera tickets in the hopes of diverting momentum away from a planned effort to place a photo enforcement ban on the ballot. Statistics showed that, in response, city officials and American Traffic Solutions deliberately issued fewer citations. The program rejected 29 percent of violations in July 2008, but documents show the rate of rejections climbed to 54 percent in December.
“Why would they do that?” Resident Byron Schirmbeck asked. “The answer it that the citations weren’t dropping as predicted and the camera company saw a real public relations problem: How could they claim that the cameras were working if citations were still so high?
Simple, they couldn’t. The solution they came up with is to start sending Baytown Police Department fewer violations for them to review. This way they could say that fewer citations meant fewer red light runners and they could attempt to save their multimillion dollar program when election time came around.”
According to writer Buddy Nevins of BrowardBeat.com who has written about red light cameras, said, “Primarily I believe that red light cameras are wrong because they violate the long-held judicial doctrine of being innocent until the state proves one guilty. In the case of the camera, you are guilty and must prove your innocence which often takes a lot of time and money.”
In the end, it’s not the residents that are getting rich over this, it’s the fat-cats of American Traffic Solutions that are making most of the money, because many people won’t contest the $158 ticket. If you do want to appeal the ticket you’ll need to pay the $125 fee to the Judge Magistrate.
Like them? Well then hope some money goes back to help our city because that’s why they wanted these cameras in the first place. Don’t like them? 2014 elections are around the corner. Vote out those that voted for them.
More on locations of red light cameras and how to beat the red light cameras fines in later articles.