Cities around the country have begun dropping the use of red light cameras,which were once touted as the best way to stop drivers from “blowing through” red lights. Disappointed municipal officials invariably point to the systems’ failure to generate the promised amount of revenue as the reason for the change. To keep from losing more clients, the red light camera industry’s latest move has been to ticket drivers who stop at red lights to boost the number of potential violations.
Several years ago the industry significantly increased its yield by transitioning away from ticketing vehicles for running red lights. Instead, camera focused on right-hand turn lanes so they could mail citations to the owners of vehicles that make slow, rolling right turns on red. In some jurisdictions, right-turn tickets account for 90 percent of all tickets issued — even though national and local data suggest the maneuver is not dangerous. In some cases, however, right-turn tickets failed to be profitable when the public refused to pay citations — as happened in Los Angeles, California — or because of legislative restrictions on right-turn citations — as happened in Florida.
Last April, the city of Denver became the first jurisdiction in Colorado to allow a private company, Affiliated Computer Services, to issue red light camera tickets to stationary vehicles. Issuing tickets to stopped drivers only required a simple software change, but it boosted the city’s profit fourfold.
Newark, California is one of the cities where ninety percent of the $480 tickets issued by Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia go to the owners of vehicles photographed turning right on red. Through December 2011, the change has contributed significantly to the grand total of 41,575 tickets Redflex has been issued, worth $19,956,000.
One of those ticket recipients, who asked not to be identified, drove his Toyota Prius on August 27 at the intersection of Newark Boulevard and Jarvis Avenue. He pulled up to the intersection at a speed of 16 MPH with his turn signal activated. He came to a full stop and waited for several seconds for traffic to clear before proceeding. His front tire crossed the first line of the crosswalk, which Newark and Redflex contend is a serious violation of the law. At 9:42pm, there were no pedestrians visible anywhere near the intersection. Though the Prius driver was outraged at receiving the ticket, he decided to plead guilty before a judge known for reducing turning tickets to $110 rather than risk losing the full $480.