Red-light cameras promoted for Pittsburgh
Share with others:
HARRISBURG -- Efforts to put cameras on poles near traffic lights at busy Pittsburgh intersections have been stuck in a legislative traffic jam for several years.
But now a push is revving up for such cameras, which snap a photo of the license plate of a car as it speeds through a red light. Legislators could vote before they adjourn July 1 for summer recess.
Each violation would carry a $100 fine, which would be assessed against the car's owner -- even if the owner was not the person behind the wheel when the car ran the light.
Advocates of bringing red-light cameras to Pittsburgh, such as Rep. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins, say cameras have been successful in preventing accidents and lowering traffic deaths since first being installed in 2005 on several major streets in Philadelphia.
It's the only city in Pennsylvania where the cameras currently are permitted, but the state House and Senate are considering measures that could legalize cameras for Pittsburgh and other larger towns, including Scranton, Erie, McKeesport, Altoona, Johnstown and several others in central and eastern Pennsylvania.
"The evidence clearly demonstrates that red-light cameras improve safety at intersections," said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County.
While supporters say the cameras do much to discourage drivers from speeding through red lights, opponents claim photographing license plates is an unwarranted invasion of drivers' privacy and just another way for the government to raise money.
In 2010-11, the fine of $100 per violation in Philadelphia generated $13 million; after expenses were deducted, more than $7 million was sent to the state Transportation Department for safety improvement projects around the state. Other critics question why money generated solely in Philadelphia -- from fines paid mainly by local motorists -- should go to PennDOT for improvements in towns statewide.
Mr. Costa said he favors giving half of the fine revenue to the host city for traffic safety projects, with the other half going to the statewide pot.
He said that under the proposed red-light camera bill, no "points" would be assessed against a motorist's license and there would be no reports to the driver's insurance company that could cause higher insurance rates.
"I know some people are concerned about the 'big brother' aspect of the bill, but we think this is the fairest way to do it and increase traffic safety," he said. "Accidents and deaths are way down in Philadelphia since the cameras were installed."
However, last fall the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group issued a report saying that private, for-profit companies are pushing the Legislature to authorize expansion of the red-light cameras as a way to sell their products, and questioned whether the issue of safety had become secondary.
"We need to make sure we're protecting the public as this goes forward," said PennPIRG official Alana Miller.
Mr. Costa, joined by several traffic safety groups, held a news conference here last week to urge the Legislature to expand the camera program to other towns. They said more than 500 cities in the U.S. now use the traffic cameras.
"It's not about revenue-raising," said Rep. Rick Geist, R-Altoona. "It's about public safety. There are an awful lot of people [in Philadelphia] today who are alive and healthy but who would have been statistics if this program hadn't been installed."
Deaths from accidents caused when cars speed through red lights are preventable, added Jacy Good, a young woman whose parents were killed in an accident (in which she was injured) caused when a car ran a red light.
"We need to do whatever we can to ... stop these preventable crashes from happening," she said. "There are more than 2,500 communities in Pennsylvania but only one can use this technology? It doesn't make any sense. We know it saves lives."
The Senate last fall passed a bill sponsored by Mr. Pileggi to permit red-light cameras in Pittsburgh and other larger cities in the state, but the House hasn't acted on it. The state House, this month, approved a bill making the Philly cameras permanent (they had a June 30 deadline for removal). The Senate hasn't acted on that one. Either bill could be used as a method to expand the cameras statewide.
Mr. Costa hopes that one of the two bills will be approved -- with the exact wording that allows expansion statewide -- before the Legislature begins its summer break.
That could be difficult though, because contentious debate on the new $27 billion state budget must come first, and a controversial measure to sell the state-owned liquor stores also may come to a vote.
First Published June 17, 2012 12:00 am