Albuquerque Pulls Plug on Red-Light Cameras

Published February 1, 2013

Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the latest of a growing number of cities switching off traffic cameras meant to catch motorists running red lights. City officials voted to repeal the ordinance that allows photo enforcement.
Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis sponsored the repeal, which was approved on November 7, and signed by the mayor on November 17.

“By removing the red-light cameras and photo enforcement the city of Albuquerque is now forced to engineer intersections for safety and not revenue,” Lewis said.

Safety or Revenue?
Red-light traffic cameras have skyrocketed in popularity. As of November of this year, 556 communities nationwide have installed cameras, including New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington DC.

According to Russ Rader, a spokesperson at the Institute for Highway Safety, an independent and nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing losses from highway crashes, federal government statistics show that about 670 people were killed and another 130,000 were injured in red-light running crashes in 2009, which is the most recent year for which figures are available.
Rader says that “peer reviewed before-and-after studies consistently show that red-light cameras reduce red-light running violations and crashes.”

However, red-light cameras have raised questions whether the cameras’ functions are for safety purposes or collecting revenue.

“Most analysis on the performance of red light cameras and their ability to improve safety is mixed at best,” said Michael Ennis, transportation Director at the Washington Policy Center, an independent and non-profit organization that promotes sound public policy based on free-market solutions. “This leads the public to see cameras as just another taxing mechanism for government officials to raise more money.”

Constitutional Issues
Ennis says red-light cameras also raise Constitutional concerns. He says that issuing tickets without following common procedure of pulling over the vehicle and allowing the driver the opportunity to explain extenuating circumstances may violate Constitutional guarantees of due process.

Another concern, he says, is the fact that owners of the vehicle can be penalized without law-enforcement proof that they were actually driving the car during the violation.
“There are also obvious privacy concerns about the strict, indiscriminate nature of issuing violations to drivers without due process,” Ennis said.
False Sense of Safety/Security
City officials in Los Angeles, Houston, and Colorado Springs also abandoned red-light cameras in 2011.

The City of Houston turned off their cameras on Aug. 24. “The reason they were turned off is because Houston voters wanted them taken down,” said Jessica Michan, a spokesperson from Mayor Parker’s office.
“There were mixed results while the cameras were on,” Michan said of the safety results of the cameras. “It was our belief that they improved public safety.”

Councilor Lewis said he’s researched studies from across the country. “Red-light cameras are a scam and they do not contribute to an increase of safety at intersections,” he said. “They do not decrease accidents. They’re in fact a false sense of security; a false sense of safety.”

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.