Was it really red?

///Was it really red?

Remember the game: Red light, green light, 1, 2, 3?. Well, the new program that started in 2010 in several municipalities in New Jersey is not a game. You probably noticed cameras right along street lights, facing downward. The purpose for their installation at was to catch motorists who drive through red lights – the violation would be on camera. The video captures the vehicle and the license plate, and a ticket is issued in the mail. This was presented as a public safety, but we all know it provides significant revenue to municipalities.

Now it’s almost 2 years later, New Jersey has temporarily suspended the program and is questioning the accuracy of the yellow light timing. Amazingly, 63 out of 85 red-light cameras in New Jersey weren’t tested properly. From June 20, 2012, no tickets will issue from those 63 locations until they are in compliance.

What is the problem you ask? Towns failed to comply with the national standards and the requirement of authorizing statute:

1. Yellow lights are expected to stay lit one second for every 10 mph, under national standards, e.g., 3.5 seconds where the speed limit is 35 mph.

2. Pursuant to statute towns were to study driver’s speed they approach the intersection BEFORE deciding the length of a yellow light.

3. Towns were also to consider the speed that 85% of drivers drive through the intersection.

It was found that in at least 21 towns, existing speed limits were used to determine the length of the yellow lights without having conducted the requisite traffic studies. It is also believed that timing of the yellow lights was reduced in order to increase the number of tickets issued. The clear result is more fines for municipalities. Since these are not mandatory court appearances the majority of people simply paid the ticket. Now, engineers in the municipalities of Brick, Linden, North Brunswick, Rahway, and Woodbridge will have to conduct new studies to verify the yellow light time.

It was argued that the cameras cause confusion about what to do as a motorist approaches a light turning yellow. In order to avoid a ticket, a driver will stop abruptly and thereby causing an increase in rear end accidents. Or the driver stops in the middle of the intersection and then backs up causing an accident.  In both cases the effect is not safety. Rather the motorist is primarily concerned in not getting a ticket, and instead causes an accident.

In case the towns get their act together, here are some common misconceptions about these cameras:

1. Drivers who are stuck in an intersection when the light changes will not get a ticket;

2. All four tires have to be behind the stop line for the system to be triggered;

3. The violation does not carry points;

4. Drivers will get a ticket if they don’t come to a complete stop. What they call a rolling stop will trigger a ticket.

So what do you think? Do the cameras serve a public good or are they simply a gold mine for towns? Tell us what you think.

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