The decision by the Menlo Park City Council to install red-light cameras is motivated by greed, not public safety.
I was recently falsely accused by the San Diego Police Department of running a red light in their fair city. Even though I was not in the car they alleged had run the red light, proving my innocence turned out to be complex and lengthy. This incident led me to learn more about red-light cameras and their negative effects.
Red-light cameras create accidents. Bakersfield, Middletown, Ohio, and numerous other cities have found that red-light cameras increase accidents and injuries at the intersections where they are installed due to increased rear-end collisions.
In a comprehensive study covering an eight-year period, Regina, Sask., found a 12 percent increase in accidents, 8 percent increase in injuries, and 14 percent increase in property damage at intersections equipped with cameras.
Red-light cameras violate civil rights and create lawsuits. In Minneapolis, all pending red-light camera tickets are on hold after the city lost a suit by the ACLU. Wisconsin has outlawed ticket cameras altogether after lawsuits mounted. San Diego itself has lost several lawsuits after it was shown the contractor had shortened the yellow lights to increase the number of tickets. Scottsdale's cameras were deactivated in October. Girard and Steubenville, both in Ohio, shut down their programs after losing class action lawsuits. In almost every court around the country, red-light camera programs have been found to violate due process and to be unconstitutional.
Red-light cameras make money. RedFlex Traffic Systems, the contractor selected by Menlo Park, is an Australian company whose U.S. headquarters are in Scottsdale. Ninety percent of its estimated $6.7 million in profits come from 660 red-light cameras installed in the United States. RedFlex is one of the major lobbyists promoting the use of red-light cameras, and it is telling that the company will install the cameras in Menlo Park at no cost to the city. This is about their profits.
Red-light cameras turn police officers into modern-day revenuers. Police Chief Bruce Goitia acknowledged in your article that Menlo Park would make as much as $500,000 a year from the program. Additional police staff will be hired to collect the money. There is something very perverse about a program where the police (department) benefits from increased bad public behavior. This is the exact opposite of what police work is all about.
Running a red light is a terrible thing to do. Beyond being a violation, it puts drivers, pedestrians and bystanders in physical danger. There are many studies and statistics showing that simply increasing yellow light times by a second or two reduces violations and accidents. A simple engineering solution will address the vast majority of the problems. In more difficult situations, better coordination of traffic lights, larger and brighter lights, and removal of visual obstacles can further reduce violations and accidents.
I sincerely hope the Menlo Park City Council will reconsider its terrible decision before accidents increase and lawsuits get filed. The council should do something constructive about public safety and apply sound engineering principles to reduce accidents, not set up a system where the city benefits financially from increased violations.
Resident, Portola Valley