Newark says accidents down 64 percent at intersections with red light cameras

By Steve Strunsky/The Star-Ledger 


The City of Newark said accidents fell 64 percent at seven intersections where red light cameras had been in place for at least three years.

NEWARK — Newark officials say 
seven intersections with red light cameras have had a 64 percent drop in accidents since the controversial technology was installed four years ago.

The city found that the seven Newark intersections analyzed for today's report had a 69 percent reduction in right-angle collisions, or broadsides, among the deadliest type of car crashes. Rear-end collisions declined 61 percent, the city said.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker attributed the decline in accidents to the automated cameras.

“Since their installation four years ago, our city’s red light cameras have been an effective mechanism in significantly reducing auto accidents at busy intersections,” Booker, a candidate for U.S. Senate in next month's special election, said in a statement. “The investment in this technology has made our residents safer and served as a strong deterrent for people who may otherwise consider breaking traffic laws.”

The city did not provide the number of accidents at the seven intersections during the analysis period, only the percentage change. A city spokesman, David Lippman, declined to elaborate on the findings.

Cameras have been installed at 76 intersections in 25 communities across the state under a pilot program scheduled to conclude in December 2014. The cameras are intended to curb dangerous driving and reduce crashes and fatalities at high-accident, high-risk intersections. A total of 19 intersections in Newark have cameras.

The cameras are programmed to photograph vehicles that move through red lights, with images clear enough to read their license plates. The photographs are reviewed by a police officer, and the motorist to whom the offending vehicle is registered is then issued a fine. No points are assessed on the registrant's license, as in a moving violation, since the photograph cannot prove who was driving at the time.

Opponents of the cameras have ridiculed them as Big Brother-like cash cows for municipalities -- a criticism fueled by findings that some have been timed to change from yellow to red too quickly for drivers to react.

Last spring, the Associated Press reported that Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, one of two makers of cameras used in New Jersey, had agreed to set up a $4.2 million fund to pay plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging that ticketed motorists did not have ample time to brake.

Camera opponents include the National Motorists Association, whose New Jersey delegate downplayed the Newark findings. The delegate, Steve Carrellas, said he would wait for an update on the camera program expected in November from the state Department of Transportation. Even if Newark's percentages accurately reflect real reductions in accidents, Carrellas said, those reductions are not necessarily the result of red light cameras.

"We don't know what else has changed," Carrellas said of the intersections or Newark motorists. “Without the actual data to see what they don’t want to tell us, we’ll just wait for the state report to come out.”

A preliminary report by the DOT last November found that accidents have not fallen at all intersections where the cameras were installed. The report found that the total number of accidents at 24 intersections where the cameras had been in place for at least one year had actually increased by 0.9 percent above the total for the year before they were installed, while the number of rear-end collisions rose 20 percent.

Despite the statewide increase, the DOT report was consistent with the finding released today by Newark. For example, the DOT report found that at two Newark intersections where cameras had been in place for at least two years, the total number of crashes fell by 57 percent, from 47 to 20, when comparing the second year of installation to the first.

In April, the DOT froze the installation of any new cameras pending a review of accident data for the intersections. The state said it halted new installations because at least two years of data is required for a statistically valid assessment of their effectiveness, and the pilot program ends in less than two years.

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