Virginia Towns Get Green Light for Red-Light Cameras

By | July 16, 2007

Several Virginia localities are in the early stages of establishing or reviving traffic light monitoring systems that use cameras to catch red-light runners, highway safety advocates say.

Legislation allowing localities across the state to implement so-called “photo red” programs took effect July 1. The technology allows cameras to snap photos of cars that run stoplights. The license plate number is used to identify the car’s owner, who gets a ticket in the mail.

Pilot programs allowing photo-red enforcement in several northern Virginia localities and Virginia Beach expired July 1, 2005. Measures to reinstate those programs or expand them failed until last winter, when the General Assembly passed a bill authorizing photo red statewide.

“We’ve known from the beginning that the localities that had it previously wanted to reinstate it,” said Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

They apparently will be joined by some newcomers. Newport News officials have chosen three busy and dangerous intersections for photo-monitoring. Richmond Police Chief Rodney Monroe has said he would like to have cameras at two or three intersections by the end of the year, although no official action has been taken.

Nancy Rodrigues of Virginia Association of Driver Education and Traffic Safety said Thursday that she has been surprised by news reports that some localities that had never expressed an interest in photo red are now considering it.

However, it takes a while for the political, regulatory and procurement processes to work, so cameras aren’t going up immediately.
“It’s still a little bit soon,” said Leslie Blakey, executive director of the National Campaign to Stop Red-Light Running. “It will probably take even those who had programs before several months to establish programs.”

Bob Otten, traffic enforcement supervisor in Fairfax County, agreed. He said it could take the county about a year to get the program up and running again, in part because the locality’s annual budget was passed before the photo-red law.

Also, the county might replace its old system with more advanced technology, he said.

Traffic safety advocates say the cameras reduce red-light running, therefore decreasing the number of injuries from broadside collisions.
“We feel that because we had up to a 70 percent reduction in red-light running at some intersections, the message was getting across,” Otten said.

Opponents have argued that the use of cameras is an Orwellian invasion of privacy, and that the decrease in broadside collisions is at least partially offset by an increase in rear-end collisions.

A new study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council confirmed that photo enforcement decreases red-light running crashes but increases rear-end crashes, but found that results significantly vary by jurisdiction and intersection.

“These results cannot be used to justify the widespread installation of cameras because they are not universally effective,” the council says in its report. “These results also cannot be used to justify the abolition of cameras, as they have had a positive impact at some intersections and in some jurisdictions.”

The council, a partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation and the University of Virginia, recommends making photo-red decisions on an intersection-by-intersection basis after careful study.

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