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Yellow lights don't last long enough, New Jersey lawmaker says

August 19, 2013 8:24:29 PM PDT
A lawmaker who has been the most ardent critic of New Jersey's red light camera program took up the cause again Monday and said he has video proof that thousands of motorists are being unfairly ticketed at intersections where yellow lights are too short in duration.

Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon presented online videos that showed several intersections in northern New Jersey where yellow lights were supposed to be either three or four seconds long, based on the average traffic speed of the intersecting roads.

Using a digital stopwatch in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, the videos appeared to show the yellow lights turning to red anywhere from one-tenth to one-quarter of a second early.

O'Scanlon said the difference might seem trivial but the reality is not: About 30 percent of violations occur in the first quarter-second of a light turning red, he said.

"It means you're illegally ticketing and fining 30 percent of people," O'Scanlon said.

In 2008, the Legislature authorized a five-year pilot program to determine whether the cameras reduced the frequency and severity of crashes at intersections with a history of motorists running red lights. Motorists have paid millions of dollars in fines because of the cameras; one small town in Gloucester County produced more than $1 million in paid violations from May 2011 through May 2012 from one intersection.

"Their appetite for your money is so voracious they rolled the dice," O'Scanlon said, referring to the 25 towns that have the cameras and the companies that install and monitor them and receive a cut of the violations payments. "They count on us not paying attention."

In June 2012, state officials suspended the program for a month after determining that 63 of the 85 cameras were not tested to ensure the yellow lights were timed properly and required towns to re-certify the cameras to specifications outlined in the legislation. The state announced this April that it had suspended plans to add more cameras before next December.

O'Scanlon said he would forward videos from more than a dozen intersections to the state Department of Transportation for review. He said he expected cameras at those intersections to be removed.

"We look forward to reviewing any material submitted by Assemblyman O'Scanlon to our department, and appreciate his concerns on the red light camera issue," DOT spokesman Joseph Dee said Monday.

In a separate matter, nearly 500,000 motorists ticketed in 18 New Jersey towns are scheduled to receive a total of about $4.2 million under a settlement of a class-action lawsuit against American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that installed and operates many of the cameras. The minimum payout is $8.50, or 10 cents on the dollar of the $85 ticket. The plaintiffs had accused the company of not doing required testing to properly time yellow lights.


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