By Ben Simmoneau
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s full speed ahead for red light cameras across the Delaware Valley. More and more are appearing in Philadelphia, South Jersey and Delaware and now they could be coming to the Pennsylvania suburbs.
Yet the CBS 3 I-Team found some serious questions remain about the effectiveness of red light cameras, while others believe they are simply in place to make money.
Take the intersection of Roosevelt Boulevard and Grant Avenue. It was once rated one of the most dangerous intersections in the country. But then came red light enforcement cameras in 2005, which were supposed to make it safer.
However, it’s not clear that’s worked according to some statistics uncovered by the I-Team.
A PennDOT report obtained by CBS 3 shows there have been more accidents at Grant and the Boulevard after the cameras went in: 159 crashes over the last five years compared to 138 in the five years before cameras. Accidents also increased up the Boulevard at Red Lion Road, another intersection cameras were supposed to make safer, from 82 to 100.
Officials say they’re not sure why overall accidents are up because they say fewer are caused by red light running.
“When we started the program, we had over 3,000 people running the red light at those intersections in a month,” said Corinne O’Connor with the Philadelphia Parking Authority, the agency which runs Philadelphia’s red light cameras. “Now you’re down to maybe 250 people running the red lights.”
Crashes also increased at several places in South Jersey after red light cameras went in.
“It’s probably because someone is going too fast or following too closely,” said New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski who believes cameras make roads safer. He authored the Garden State’s red light camera law and chairs the Assembly Transportation Committee.
“We have a lot of people driving today who are just not paying attention,” he said. “The red light camera program is geared to do one thing: to get people to pay attention at red light signals.”
But others believe the red light cameras are geared to bring in green. They do generate millions of dollars. Fines in New Jersey range from $85 to $140. In Philadelphia, they’re $100.
With 18,000 tickets in the course of a year, the busiest cameras in our area right now are in Gloucester Township, New Jersey at Blackwood-Clementon Road and Erial Road. Second most active are the cameras at Route 47 and William Dalton Drive in Glassboro. Cameras at Route 41 and Deptford Center Drive are third busiest followed by those in Philadelphia at Roosevelt Boulevard and Levick Street. Rounding out the top five are the cameras on South Broad Street just south of Philadelphia City Hall.
“It’s only about money,” believes Tom McCarey, a member of the National Motorists Association which opposes red light cameras.
He says if yellow lights were made slightly longer, far fewer people would run the red and the cameras would not be profitable.
“You have to use the prevailing speed of the traffic and not the posted speed limit to set the length of the yellow lights,” he said. “You add one second to one and a half second to every [yellow] light in Pennsylvania, violations will decrease by 70 percent and stay there.”
Using the prevailing speed of the traffic is the law for setting the yellow lights at camera-monitored intersections in New Jersey but the problem is some intersections weren’t checked. People sued and even though no timing issues were found, one of the two big camera companies, American Traffic Solutions, settled in December. But the average refund: just $6 per person.
You can see the municipalities where some drivers are getting refunds at the bottom of this story. A lawsuit against the other company is pending.
Some people, though, have found a way to pay nothing.
“There’s no question that they, at least in my case, they sent false evidence through the mail,” said Jim Tucker. He got a red light camera ticket in Cherry Hill.
Tucker’s ticket came with two photos that said he went 17 miles an hour through the light while turning right.
“Mathematically it would have been impossible for me to be doing 17 miles per hour in both photographs,” he said.
And the video, which you can access online in New Jersey, proved his point. So Tucker fought his ticket and won, proving it’s not impossible to beat big brother.
New Jersey municipalities where some drivers could be getting a small refund:
East Brunswick Township
East Windsor Township
City of Linden