Red-light-runners – we’ve all experienced them.  It’s rush hour, and you’re behind a car that is approaching a yellow traffic signal at a busy intersection.  The light turns red, and the car in front of you speeds ahead through the intersection.  In the past, nothing would happen to that driver who ran the red light unless he caused an accident at the intersection, or a police officer happened to witness the moving violation and issued a summons to him, or unless someone else issued a citizen’s complaint against the responsible driver.  That all is starting to change.  

With traffic enforcement technology ever-evolving, various states across the country (including New Jersey) are cracking down on red-light violators. Many states and municipalities are now employing photo enforcement technology as a means to deter drivers from running red traffic lights.  In most instances, a camera is installed above or in the vicinity of a traffic signal.  The camera often are placed at dangerous intersections, and the camera typically takes a photo of a vehicle and its license plate as the vehicle travels through the intersection when a red traffic light is illuminated. A violator then receives a traffic ticket through mail. The ticket is often mailed to the address where the vehicle was last registered, and fines can be hefty. I’ve seen photo enforcement tickets, and the technology is sophisticated and can record a vehicle’s speed and position at various intervals.

A recent press release from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that its recent study shows that red light cameras saved 159 lives from the years 2004-2008 in 14 of the biggest cities in the nation. Traffic fatalities in 14 cities with red-light cameras fell by 35 percent between the five-year periods 1992 to 1996 and 2004 to 2008.  Although the rate also dropped in the 48 cities without the cameras during that same time period, it only declined by 14 percent. The Institute states that its recent analysis shows that a total of 815 deaths would have been prevented if cameras had been operating in all large cities during that time period.  Even further, red-light runnings killed 676 people and injured an estimated 113,000 in 2009.  Nearly two-thirds of the deaths were people other than the red light running drivers–occupants of other vehicles, passengers in the red light runners’ vehicles, bicyclists, or pedestrians.  
The red-light camera tickets often generate huge revenue streams for otherwise financially-strapped municipalities. Some states, such as Nevada, have laws that prohibit traffic cameras for tickets.  However, the North Las Vegas Police Department is considering another push for red-light cameras.  

The red-light cameras are not without controversy. Critics of the red-light cameras frequently cite concerns over drivers’ privacy as well as the large revenues that local government agencies collect from the resulting fines. A recent news article explains that Gloucester Township is at the forefront of South Jersey communities that have installed red-light cameras.  Gloucester Township has 10 cameras and issued more than 17,000 citations between July and December of last year.  In nearby Cherry Hill, the installation of a new camera system at the intersection of Route 70 and Springdale Road was underway as of early February.  A township spokesperson explained that more than 400 accidents occur each year in the area of Route 70 and Springdale Road.  Similarly, Deptford Township installed a camera in May, 2010 at Route 41 and Deptford Center Road.  Nearly 11,000 tickets were in the township between May and December of that year.    
Regardless of your opinion on the issue, be sure to always drive safely and obey the law–you never know who’s watching!