What makes a successful speed, red light camera program?

Last updated: 05-10-2021

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What makes a successful speed, red light camera program?

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- While automated enforcement programs, like speed cameras and red light cameras, have proven to bolster roadway safety, they’re often opposed by many members of the communities in which they’re installed, as we’ve seen here on Staten Island.

Despite statistical evidence indicating that the programs effectively reduce speeding, crashes and injuries in the areas in which they’re implemented, the cameras are often viewed as a revenue generator for the city instead of as a life-saving traffic-calming measure.

With that in mind, a group of the nation’s largest traffic safety organizations has released a new checklist designed to help communities that are implementing or expanding automated enforcement programs gain the support of local residents.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is currently pushing the state legislature to expand the city’s school zone speed camera program to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Contributing traffic safety organizations include AAA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Safety Council (NSC).

“Research by IIHS and others has shown consistently that automated enforcement curbs dangerous driving behaviors and reduces crashes,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “We hope this document developed with our highway safety partners will help communities take full advantage of this tool.”

National traffic data indicates that speeding is one of the biggest driving factors in roadway fatalities.

In 2019, nearly 9,500 deaths, more than one-quarter of all traffic fatalities, occurred in crashes that involved a speeding driver.

While not quite as deadly, red light running is a major cause of injury across the country, especially for some of the most vulnerable road users.

In 2019, approximately 143,000 Americans were injured in crashes involving a driver running a red light. Additionally, nearly 900 people were killed in such crashes, with the vast majority of them being pedestrians or cyclists, and not the occupants of the vehicle that ran the red light.

“Red light running and speeding are known killers on our roads,” says Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Cathy Chase. “Well-designed and implemented automated enforcement programs can deter these hazardous driving behaviors and reduce crash deaths and injuries.”

The checklist encourages municipalities to embrace transparency and community input as a means of gaining widespread acceptance for the programs, something that New York City has refused to do in recent years by continuously denying to provide camera locations unless interested parties file a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.

“With inclusion of equity, transparency and community participation as critical planning and implementation components, the new automated enforcement checklist will enable stakeholders to focus on safety rather than financial gain and to address speed, reduce red light running and improve mobility,” said NSC President Lorraine Martin.

Here’s a look at some of the items included on the automated enforcement checklist, which is broken into four phases -- first steps, second steps, implementation and long-term.

When looking to implement automated enforcement programs, transportation departments should first evaluate problematic roadways and intersections to determine the areas most in need of the cameras.

This should be done through a combination of analyzing local crash data, conducting field observations and soliciting community input, according to the checklist.

Agencies should also make any necessary changes to street engineering and nearby signage to ensure that speed limit signs are clearly displayed and that cameras are not placed in areas in which their view is obstructed by street poles or other infrastructure.

The organizations also suggest forming a local advisory committee and ensuring that all meetings and decisions are made openly available to the general public.

Municipalities should then begin designing their automated enforcement programs, seeking input from the advisory committees throughout the process.

This portion of the process includes developing a reasonable fine structure, establishing enforcement thresholds, such as how high above the speed limit a motorist must be traveling to receive a violation, and creating a process by which violations can be challenged by ticketed drivers.

Departments should then use the information gathered during the first steps of the process to select locations for the cameras, making sure that certain communities or neighborhoods are not disproportionately targeted.

During implementation, the safety organizations recommend holding a program launch event with advisory committee members and other community stakeholders to ensure the public is well aware of the program.

Transportation departments should consider rolling out a public education campaign during the program launch, ensuring that the focus is on improving safety and not generating revenue through fines.

Agencies may also consider holding probationary periods during the program launch, during which drivers are issued warnings, but not fines, for their speeding and red light camera infractions.

In the long run, cities should make sure to provide regular updates on the program’s efficacy, including the number of violations issued and how implementation has impacted speeding and crashes along the affected corridors.

Additionally, when expanding upon existing programs, the checklist recommends that transportation departments publicize all new camera locations and temporarily reinstitute the probationary period at those locations.

Camera operators should also routinely conduct field reviews to ensure that speed cameras are properly calibrated to the appropriate speed and that red light cameras are properly synchronized with nearby traffic control devices.


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