Linda Seida

LAMBERTVILLE – Would you think twice before speeding to beat a yellow light or zooming past a red light if you knew a traffic camera was waiting to ding you with a ticket?
In Lambertville, that may not be a theoretical question for too much longer.
The City Council on Monday will discuss whether to ask camera vendors to submit proposals for the installation and operation of red-light cameras, Mayor David Del Vecchio said.
The council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the Justice Center, 25 S. Union St.
"Obviously, there is a safety component; people beating red lights altogether or making illegal right turns on red," Mayor Del Vecchio said. "Second, there is a revenue component."
Police Director Bruce Cocuzza estimated a ticket could cost a driver about $80, but no points would be levied against a driver’s record.
In New Jersey, the law says a suspected violation caught by a red-light camera must be referred to a police department, which would then review the circumstances and issue a ticket, if warranted, Mr. Cocuzza said. In some states, however, that is not the case, with tickets issued by the camera operator.
Councilman Ward Sanders said the cameras are about safety.
"The first job of government is to ensure the safety of its citizens," he said. "I have been increasingly concerned about a number of traffic-safety issues."
Like other city residents, Mr. Sanders has had difficulty crossing certain streets, even in designated crosswalks, because some drivers are not stopping for pedestrians as they should. Although the cameras wouldn’t fix that problem, it is anticipated the cameras would help make the city’s dangerous intersections safer, he said.
"The light at Bridge (Street) and Route 165 continues to be the site of a number of accidents," Mr. Sanders said. "Our interest in automated photo enforcement systems has grown out of a larger sense of concern about safety, and we need to consider this as part of our ongoing efforts to make Lambertville’s streets safer for pedestrians and other motorists."
Route 165 is one of the worst roads in the city for motor vehicle accidents, Director Cocuzza said. The stretch of highway between Bridge Street and Swan Street accounts for roughly 20 to 25 percent of all Lambertville’s motor vehicle accidents, he said.
Over the past two to three years, however, the number of collisions has decreased overall, likely because of road construction and improvement projects that slowed traffic at the time, Director Cocuzza said.
The stretch of Route 165 near Bridge Street was the site of a fatal accident in 2000 when a large truck crashed into a video store. About five years later, a young woman was struck and later died from injuries she received while crossing Route 165 about 200 yards away from the scene of the truck accident that occurred in 2000.
"After some initial investigation, I think it is worth considering and investigating automated photo enforcement systems," Mr. Sanders said. "Here’s why: New Jersey currently has a five-year pilot, under a program heavily regulated by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, which allows cameras only at intersections with a documented history of dangerous crashes. The solution is targeted to problem spots. Recent experiences under these pilot programs in other New Jersey towns like in Newark and Brick has been positive. More and more towns are now considering this option."
Also, he said, "These programs can be set up so that they do not cost the city any money."
An explanation of the technology from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the red-light camera is connected to a traffic signal and to sensors. The system monitors the signal, and a violation is recorded when a vehicle goes through a red light a predetermined period of time after the traffic signal turns red. In some towns, for example, a driver may be given a half second of leeway.
Depending on the technology used, photos or a video may record the violation. The camera notes the date, time, speed of the vehicle and how much time has passed since the signal turned red. Of course, license plates, too, are noted. After police review the camera’s evidence, the driver receives his ticket in the mail.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 137,000 people suffered injuries and 762 people died in 2008 in collisions that involved the running of a red light. The people most at risk in such accidents are occupants of the car that is struck and pedestrians, the institute said.
"This technology has already yielded undeniable proof of its effectiveness in saving lives," according to the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running.
The grassroots advocacy organization says the technology has reduced red-light violations in New York City by 34 percent, and by 85 percent in New Orleans.
But various studies of red-light camera systems paint a contrary picture.
Director Cocuzza, whose hometown of New York has long used the cameras, said, "Research says it prevents accidents. Others suggest it potentially increases accidents, particularly rear-end collisions. Others say it’s just a revenue generator."
In Houston, 70 red-light cameras brought in $44 million in fines in the four years since they were installed. Residents there are not happy. Last week, a slim majority of the voters, nearly 53 percent, said they want to get rid of the cameras.
But Houston’s contract with the vendor, which still has four years to go, calls for four months’ notice before cancellation, making Houston residents angry all over again. They want the offending technology gone now. Tickets issued in the meantime are still valid.