12 INVESTIGATES: Red light cameras goal - safety or cash grab?

Published: Jan. 14, 2013 at 10:15 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 15, 2013 at 2:01 PM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - They are the new eye in the sky, making red light runners think twice. The cameras are supposed to prevent T-bone collisions. Next to a head-on collision, it's the worst kind of crash to have.

As of July 1, state law no longer requires VDOT to do a study before a camera is installed, which opens the door for red light companies. They are now offering cities and towns some sweet deals.

Richmond's has a contract with Redflex and just recently installed a camera at Elkhardt and Hull streets. Petersburg has two intersections covered by Redflex and was given the cameras for free.

"The goal is safety. Safety is the goal," Sgt. Haywood James said when the cameras were first installed.

"Aw stop it! You're concerned about putting money in your pockets," said Delegate Joe Morrissey (D - Henrico). Morrissey considers the cameras abusive to drivers. He says they're purely a way for localities and the camera companies to make money.

"What they're doing is they're getting into bed with localities who have one goal: raise money, raise revenue. The people who are bearing the burden are average, law abiding traffic minded citizens, who are getting really screwed by this and I think it's disgraceful."

Morrissey is ticked off at the number of tickets these cameras are creating for motorists making slow, rolling right turns at red lights.

In Virginia Beach, where the cameras are widely used, the city issued $2.5 million in "right turn on red" tickets last year. That's around 50,000 tickets.

Petersburg's cameras are at Washington and Adams streets, which had only four crashes in 2011, and Crater and Wagner streets, which had two crashes.

"There were two accidents there. Okay, so a VDOT study would say 'hey, there's no need for a camera.' Sure enough, they want to put a camera up there because it's a revenue generator," said Morrissey.

We reviewed the data from a 12-hour period at Wagner and Crater streets in Petersburg. During that time, only one driver was caught blowing through a red light. 152 drivers would have received right turn on red tickets.

"I am against this zero-tolerance concept that we are going to issue ticket for everybody who makes right turn on red if they don't come to a full stop," said Morrissey.

But Janet Brooking, the Executive Director for the non-profit Drive Smart Virginia disagrees.

"Automated enforcement is a way to have a presence out there that serves as a deterrent to help people understand how to follow the law without having a law enforcement officer on every corner," said Brooking.

She points to a study by Old Dominion University of Virginia Beach's cameras. When the cameras were temporarily turned off, red light running tripled.

"Why are we getting worked up about people doing something they shouldn't be doing anyway? Let's just follow the law, obey the law and make the roads safe for everybody," said Brooking.

Morrissey has proposed a bill to ban all "right turn on red" tickets from cameras unless there is video evidence the driver failed to yield to a pedestrian, cyclist or other vehicles.

"Don't be deceptive. Don't raise revenue with this clandestine, big government surveillance mechanism. That tags people. Let's do it the right way. The way it's supposed to be done," said Morrissey.

Morrissey's bill is in committee. Richmond's first red light camera at Elkhardt and Hull is expected to start running this month.

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