Red-Light Cameras Putting Themselves Out Of Work

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Some red-light camera programs around Maryland are faltering financially, says the Baltimore Sun. Larger jurisdictions have expanded their programs and are reaping increasing returns from $75 fines for red-light violations, but some cities and counties are experiencing a steady drop in citations and revenue. Some localities, particularly those with only a few cameras, are considering cutting back or dropping their programs. Revenues have steadily fallen in Baltimore and Howard counties. Municipalities such as Bel Air and Annapolis are expecting their programs to break even. Some places may be forced to decide between scrapping the cameras or staying the course, even if it means subsidizing them. “If the program is of any value, the purpose of a red-light camera is to put [itself] out of a job,” said Richard Raub of Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety. “The obvious outcome is going to be less revenue. So the question is, are you interested in revenue, or are you interested in safety?”

More than 90 cities and towns in 15 states and Washington, D.C., have red-light cameras. Ever since Howard County became the first jurisdiction in Maryland to issue camera-generated tickets in 1998, the programs have been called an invasion of privacy and a grab for easy revenue. Programs in Baltimore, California, and elsewhere have been criticized over various issues, from shortened yellow lights to contracts with vendors who might have financial incentives to mail more citations.

Critics of red-light cameras earned a victory this week when a General Assembly committee approved a minimum standard of three seconds for yellow-light times. A Federal Highway Administration report in 2000 found that red-light violations dropped by as much as 60 percent at intersections with automated cameras. The report analyzed programs in Los Angeles County; San Francisco; New York City; Howard County, Md.; and Polk County, Fla.

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