TRENTON – Citing a Middlesex County municipality’s recent decision to withdraw from a pilot program that uses traffic signal surveillance cameras to catch people who run red lights, Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union, Middlesex, and Somerset) today called for an end to the program.
Sen. Scutari said though the program purports to be focused on increasing traffic safety, it is really a revenue-raiser for towns and, in fact, could compromise safety for motorists and pedestrians.
“With the best of intentions, we enacted a law last year to allow towns to participate in a five-year pilot program to see if the use of these cameras at high-volume intersections helps reduce accidents,” Scutari said. “It’s starting to look like we already know the answer. South Brunswick Township has voted to withdraw from the program.”
Sen. Scutari said officials from South Brunswick had expressed concerns about whether the presence of traffic cameras might inadvertently contribute to an increase in rear-end collisions, as drivers stop suddenly rather than risk getting caught on camera.
“Everyone can agree that drivers need to respect the rules of the road and proceed with caution through intersections at all times,” Sen. Scutari said. “But it does no good to try and address accidents caused by drivers running red lights if all we do is increase the number of rear-end collisions because of drivers who stop short for fear of getting caught on camera.”
Another problem, Scutari said, is that the cameras only take a photo of the license plate of the vehicle as it proceeds through the intersection.
“With the license plate as the only means of identification, the summons is going to be sent to the owner of the car, regardless of who was driving,” he said. “If the owner was not behind the wheel, it then up to them to try and prove they weren’t driving. This is fundamentally unfair.”
Scutari said that as the economy continues to struggle and towns search for ways to bring in more revenue, it will be too tempting to resort to something like traffic surveillance cameras as an easy fix.
“It’s just too easy to use this as a cash cow to bring in money to local coffers,” said Sen. Scutari, an attorney who also serves as municipal prosecutor in Linden. “Just because this is an easy way for towns to raise money doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Our focus should be on public safety, not on generating revenue from fines. If there is a particularly dangerous intersection in a town, there are better ways to improve safety.”
The program, run by the state Department of Transportation, was enabled by legislation enacted early last year. About a dozen towns were accepted into the program, which began last fall. The pilot program is scheduled to run for five years.
The surveillance cameras are positioned at busy intersections and take digital photographs of vehicles that run red lights or otherwise disregard traffic signals. A color copy of the photo, along with a ticket, is mailed to the vehicle’s registered owner. Towns participating in the program had to pass local ordinances approving of the use of cameras before they could apply to participate.