Column | Sending signals on red-light safety

April 4, 2014 

Across the country, towns have found that automated red-light enforcement cameras increase pedestrian, cyclist and driver safety.

The cameras record red-light violations. They are reviewed by police. If evidence exists, vehicle owners are cited.

Research indicates that installation of red-light cameras dramatically reduces red-light running violations and serious accidents.

For example, after camera installation, Texas Transportation Institute studies reported a 20 percent decrease in red-light running crashes, and a 32 percent decrease in the most life-threatening right-angle crashes.

A Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee reported a 48 percent average reduction in red-light running violations and a 24 percent decrease in total intersection crashes.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that if the 99 U.S. cities surveyed had used red-light cameras, up to 815 deaths could have been prevented in a four-year period.

Citing January figures for their first three years of camera use, St. Petersburg, Fla., saw a significant reduction in red-light violations: 3,337 in 2012; 2,495 in 2013; and 1,043 in 2014. They recorded about 50 percent fewer accidents and 60 percent fewer accidents with injuries over the first two years of camera use.

In Pennsylvania, use of these cameras must be authorized by the General Assembly.

In 2005, the legislature granted Philadelphia authorization to pilot the use of red-light cameras. In 2012, based on the Philadelphia red-light program’s success, the legislature expanded the program to permit municipalities in second- and third-class counties with populations of 20,000 or more and served by an accredited police department to employ red-light camera technology.

Centre County is a fourth-class county.

We applaud the General Assembly for expanding the red-light camera program but find the expanded legislation too limiting.

Our community deserves access to these safety initiatives. We urge legislators to remove the class county requirement, authorizing any Pennsylvania municipality of 20,000 or more residents and served by an accredited police department permission to use red-light camera technology.

In crafting the legislation, legislators included sound requirements and safeguards to ensure red-light camera technology’s appropriate use by municipalities:

• Municipality must pass an ordinance authorizing use;

• Cameras may be used only at PennDOT-approved intersections;

•  Vehicle owners shall be liable for the penalty imposed;

• Penalty is $100 unless local ordinance sets a lesser amount;

• No traffic points are assessed;

• Insurance companies cannot use citations to increase insurance rates;

• Only rear views of vehicles in violation shall be recorded;

• Images are not public record or subject to the Right to Know Law; and

• Images shall be destroyed within 30 days of the event’s disposition;

Prosecution defenses include:

• Owner’s affidavit stating he/she was not the driver at the time of the violation;

• Vehicle was reported stolen at the time of the violation;

• Person was not the vehicle owner at the time of the violation;

• A sign advising motorists that Automated Red Light Enforcement is in place is required in advance of the intersection;

• Police officers shall evaluate the evidence and issue all violations;

• Violation notices shall include a copy of the recorded violation and other data;

• Violations shall be issued within 30 days;

• Owner is entitled to a hearing to challenge the propriety of the violation;

• Duration of the signal’s yellow light interval shall be in conformance with the signal permit issued by PennDOT; and

• Revenue from this program shall not exceed 5 percent of the municipality’s budget.

Unfortunately, red-light violations occur much too often at major State College signalized intersections. Results frequently include sudden vehicle stops, bicycles swerving to avoid being hit and pedestrians jumping out of the way.

Many crashes have resulted, and many persons have been injured.

Traditional red-light enforcement is highly labor intensive and, depending on intersection configuration, can be difficult to enforce. Our police department has limited staff and many policing responsibilities throughout the community.

We should be authorized to use the available and proven technology to make our roadways safer.

Our state legislators — Sen. Jake Corman and Reps. Scott Conklin and Kerry Benninghoff — have been asked to pursue an amendment to the current red-light camera legislation to include municipalities comparable to State College.

We hope they are able to encourage their colleagues to amend the legislation to enable the borough of State College to use red-light camera technology.

Tom King is State College chief of police. Donna Queeney is president of the College Heights Neighborhood Association.

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