New York’s red light camera program has its critics, but the New York State legislature voted in its final hours before adjourning to expand the program to New Rochelle, Mount Vernon and Albany and to re-authorize programs in Suffolk County, Nassau County, Yonkers and Rochester.
Red light cameras have been positioned at various intersections in Suffolk County, Nassau County, Yonkers and Rochester since at least 2009, and New York City has used them since 1988.
Supporters of red light cameras say they deter red-light runners and prevent NYC car accidents. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) advocates for the use of the cameras, saying they augment the efforts of traffic law enforcement officers.
Crashes at intersections are among the most common types of car accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were more than 2.3 million intersection-related crashes in the United States in one recent year, resulting in more than 7,421 fatalities and approximately 733,000 injuries.
Currently 21 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have laws permitting red light cameras. Nine states prohibit their use, and 20 states have no state red light camera laws at all, according to the GHSA.
In New York, cameras have been installed at intersections with a high number of crashes or red-light runners. From their protective boxes on poles, the cameras snap two or more pictures of the rear of vehicles as they run through red lights, capturing images of the license plate but not the occupants.
Typically, law enforcement officials review the high-resolution photos to determine if a driver indeed ran a red light. If so, the car’s owner gets a citation and the photos in the mail. Each violation carries a $50 fine.
However, a study by AAA found flaws in the New York red light program, CBS New York reported earlier this year. The study concluded that municipalities running the programs have failed to properly measure their effectiveness, as required by state law.
AAA said it supported properly administered programs because of their safety benefits but added that the lack of quality reports by the municipalities made it difficult to assess their effectiveness. The organization noted that the red light programs generate nearly $100 million in yearly revenue.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported in April that New York City revenue from red light cameras dropped from $42 million in 2012 to $33 million in 2013 as the city issued fewer tickets for violators. A spokesman for AAA told the newspaper that drivers know where the red light cameras are located and have changed their behavior as a result.
Mayor Bill deBlasio has called the red light camera program a success and urged its expansion as part of his Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic deaths.