Candid cameras: Legislature should pass broader traffic light bill
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Since 2005, the city of Philadelphia has improved safety and generated extra income from fines because of 96 cameras that detect vehicles that enter intersections when the traffic light is red. Unless the state Legislature acts, the law that authorized the cameras will expire at the end of this month.
Lawmakers should extend Philadelphia's successful program, but they can go one better. A measure that applies only to Philadelphia, House Bill 1803, already has been passed by the state House and is pending in the Senate. However, two other bills also in the hopper, HB 821 and SB 595, are preferable because they would, to varying degrees, allow other cities in Pennsylvania to start using red-light cameras, too.
Philadelphia's experience is the best argument for doing so.
According to a study performed for the Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee, by reducing the amount of red-light running, the number of serious crashes was reduced. The report found that crashes overall declined by 24 percent in 10 Philadelphia intersections where three years' worth of data was analyzed. Those results are similar to national studies -- the Insurance Industry for Highway Safety, for example, has said it saw a 24 percent drop in fatalities in intersections where cameras were present.
In Philadelphia's case, the $100 fines that are charged to drivers who run red lights brought in more than $20 million. Under the bills pending in Harrisburg, fines would be split between cities with cameras and the state, but this initiative isn't really about generating revenue.
The state study found that red-light violations began to drop as soon as one month after camera enforcement started and that violations were cut nearly in half in the first 12 months. If that pattern holds true, the potential for revenue might not be significant.
Because of traffic volume and the cost of installation and monitoring, red-light cameras aren't right for every intersection. The state study concluded that an average of 10.5 violations per day would be necessary to cover the associated costs. Still, with the traffic volume in Pittsburgh, there are some intersections where the cameras would be cost-effective.
Even if they wouldn't be, Pittsburgh and other towns should have the option of installing them at their most dangerous intersections.
HB 821 and SB 595 would give cities beyond Philadelphia the option -- not a mandate -- to decide for themselves. And that's a choice worth having.
First Published June 21, 2012 12:00 am