Part 4: Is It Safety, or Revenue?
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KYW Regional Affairs Council
“Beware! Traffic Robo-Cops!”
By Ian Bush
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As the red light camera programs expands in Pennsylvania (see related story), New Jersey’s trial run suffered a setback earlier this summer: nearly two dozen towns had to stop issuing tickets until they could certify the cameras met state standards (related story).
They’ve since been given the OK (related story), but the legal battles are far from over.
“Our focus is the safety,” not money, says New Jersey Department of Transportation spokesman Joe Dee.
The cameras in question were allowed to keep snapping while towns tested their traffic signals to see whether they met speed standards set by the program: at least one second of yellow light for every 10 mph traveled by 85 percent of the cars at that intersection.
“For all 63, the results came back that the yellow light was long enough and has been long enough all along,” says Dee.
But Joe Osefchen, an attorney with Shabel & DeNittis in Marlton, NJ, says some towns weren’t playing by the rules.
“They have to inspect their camera system and send in a report every six months,” Osefchen (right) tells KYW Newsradio. “I don’t think that’s too much for them to do, and I don’t quite understand how they forgot to do it.”
Fellow lawyer Steve DeNittis says despite the camera “recertifications,” as many as 100,000 people who got tickets in South Jersey may still have a case.
“To impose an $85 ticket that we believe is unwarranted, because municipalities didn’t comply with the law, is wrongful,” he says.
In April, an engineer sent a letter certifying that the photo enforcement equipment at the intersection of Rt. 70 and Springdale Road in Cherry Hill “was operating normally between October 25, 2011 through April 25, 2012.”
“Unless they have a time machine, they can’t send the engineer back in time a year to inspect the thing,” scoffs Osefchen. “So it doesn’t fix the problem of what happened in the past.”
A 2009 letter from NJ DOT approving Cherry Hill’s application for that intersection says “the municipal engineer must submit a certified inspection report for each location every six (6) months.”
But the law appears to read a bit differently: “A traffic control monitoring system shall be inspected and certified at least once every six months by the municipal engineer…” It defines “traffic control monitoring system” as “an integrated system or device utilizing a camera or a multiple camera system and vehicle sensors which work in conjunction with a traffic control system.”
Dee, the NJ DOT spokesman, says that portion of the law doesn’t refer specifically to the traffic signal. And anyway, he says, the lights don’t deviate from their computer-programmed times which are based on the prevailing speed.
“Every intersection was certified when it started, and every intersection has been recertified,” he tells KYW Newsradio.
The National Motorists Association, which advocates for the repeal of red light cameras, performed a study at the behest of New Jersey assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) at camera-equipped intersections. At several of them, engineers say they found the yellow light changes too quickly to meet state standards — including the aforementioned Rt. 70 in Cherry Hill, which they said was turning red a half-second before it should.
Erin Gill, the deputy solicitor in Cherry Hill, says the township “stands firm that the red light cameras in Cherry Hill are now, and have always been, in compliance with applicable NJ DOT standards.”
Osefchen and DeNittis are working to mount a class-action lawsuit on behalf of those who received red light camera violations from New Jersey towns.
“They didn’t follow the law,” says DeNittis, “and our argument is that if they didn’t follow the law, they shouldn’t have been giving tickets to people alleging they were in violation of the law.”
Listen to Part 4…