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Shamed Traffic Law Violators or a Shamed City Pride? The Battle Over Red Light Cameras Saving Us Less in the Long Run

This blog post is part 1 of 3. Watch for part 2 on Thursday, July 12, 2012.


David M. Chapinski

Does anyone living in and around a major city today, like I, fear words like ‘cash cow’ used to describe traffic.  Not your typical economic generation is it?  But cash cow in the case of New York may have a silver lining.  Because after studying the diminutive complaints about being ticketed after the fact, maybe cash cow is not so bad.  Perhaps even we the drivers are the guinea pigs to an experiment that hinges on abused privilege to drive all together.  Over the past five years the city of New York has been adding more and more red-light cameras to our intersections.  That number could go up again. The Daily News of New York City recently showed that the cameras, which goes for the auto ticket drivers who blow through reds without needing a cop on hand, are turning into a steady cash cow for the state and Albany wants more.

In 2009 those red-light cameras pulled in $37.2 million, according to Department of Transportation records. And last year that number jumped dramatically to $52 million, thanks to over one million of those miniscule $50 summonses being issued that no one really likes.  Are they really helping? In 2009 the state Legislature approved 50 additional cameras bringing the city to its current total of 150.  Now there is apparently pressure to add another 40 cameras to the streets. And while the money is a strong incentive, proponents also point out that the cameras have proven to be an effective preventive measure against dangerous driving.

Sure, we have learned from years past that when cameras are first installed the number of tickets issued jumps, but once drivers get used to them the number of infractions often drops drastically. In 2007, for instance, the city issued 950,000 tickets. The number of auto-produced tickets didn’t again approach that number again until last year, after the addition of new cameras.  I ask does 150 active red-light cameras seem a little low considering how many of them you seem to see on the streets? I travel to and from Manhattan enough during the week to say so! The DOT doesn’t just put up active cameras at busy intersections, they also put up dummy cameras that flash at illegal drivers—but don’t take pictures. So where are all these things? If you are a driver who just loves to flaunt the law, perhaps this Google Map with all of them and which direction they are facing will be helpful?  What is sad if you are a proponent for the Red Light Cameras in New York is that the New York State Legislature once again failed to pass a law allowing the City of New York to implement speed cameras, so Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken things into his own hands which I believe is a good thing. On a radio show, Bloomberg recently said that he wanted to publicly shame drivers caught speeding. No longer allowed to issue fines for the 40 red light cameras installed, New York City is looking for a way to make use of the cameras it already bought and paid for.  On this radio program, Mayor Bloomberg suggested the city could use the photos to shame traffic law violators.  The idea is to create an online wall of shame that displays the names past traffic law violators, similar to DUI walls of shame created by many police departments across the country.  Historically speaking, many judges have also issued creative, shameful punishments to offenders of minor crimes, usually requiring the offender to wear a sign or embarrassing clothing in public.  Shortly after New York City installed the cameras, state legislatures overturned the law allowing fines from the cameras, an outcome Bloomberg condemned.

The speed limit in all of New York City is 30 mph. A 2010 study by the New York City Department of Transport found that 70 percent of drivers believed speeding is a problem within the City.  While it is not clear where and how exactly Mayor Bloomberg would shame drivers caught speeding enough in New York. It is possible that the City could use billboards, ads in newspapers, or online photo galleries to humiliate motorists daring enough to exceed 30 mph within the scope of New York. Lacking the full range of power of a military commando, perhaps the Mayor could turn to a modern-day ‘black sheep’ bound to the cars of speeders.

Bloomberg’s proposal brings up one final question: between the obnoxious cabs and jaywalking pedestrians, how often do New York City drivers even have the opportunity to go faster than 30 mph?  I drive on the West Side Highway and I can say a lot.  As a matter fact, too much.  I have seen drivers exceed the speed limit by 15-30 mph on a regular basis.  Nevertheless, a red light camera controversy has begun to develop in Boca Raton.

A retiree from New York says he got a ticket for making a right turn on a red light. He insists that he’s innocent and should not have gotten the ticket and he feels he’s not the only one this happened to.  Some think it’s outrageous.  I do not.  So who is Dan Gould and why is he important to NYC’s adoption of more Red-Light Cameras?  Dan Gould recently got slapped with a $158 fine for running a red light. It’s already past the due date, and he says he’s not paying it.  People that break the law like this and end up getting caught red handed and still try and fight the system probably will continue thinking that they’ve done nothing wrong in other parts of society.  For Dan Gould, it happened April 26, on his way home from Costco at the corner of Congress and Clint Moore Road, where he pulled up to a red light, and made a right turn onto Clint Moore. A photo snapped by a red-light camera at that intersection shows Dan’s car that day preparing to turn right.  Dan Gould said he stopped and made sure it was safe to go and that he made the turn. And that he’s been doing that for 10 years that was before the cameras were there.  Automatically I started thinking to the busy NYC drivers who bypass the color of a simple hanging fixture above their heads on a 7:30am time crunch.  Dan Gould still insists he did not roll through the intersection. He says he came to a complete stop before making the right turn. But the camera says he rolled through at 15 miles per hour, and turned on red, and got a $158 fine.  Think it is outrageous but $158 for just making a turn?  Now this is a question for whom to decide?

To read part 2, click this link: Shamed Traffic Law Violators or a Shamed City Pride?  The Battle Over Red Light Cameras Saving Us Less in the Long Run, Part 2

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