BY RICHARD GERBOUNKA
MAYOR OF LINDEN
Like all good research work, the latest report by the New Jersey Department of Transportation on red-light cameras includes results that both supporters and opponents can debate. Let them, I made up my mind a long time ago. As someone who has stood in the middle of an intersection directing traffic and who has been the first to arrive at the scene of a senseless traffic crash, I will tell you that I support red-light safety cameras as much as I support speed limits, seat belts and every other traffic law and safety device available to drivers today. Red-light safety cameras save lives, and keeping them in place will continue to benefit all of us in New Jersey.
Our streets are public thoroughfares founded on laws and practices that are in place for the safety of everyone. When the laws are ignored for the sake of reckless behavior, someone’s safety, someone’s life, is put in jeopardy.
Red-light safety cameras help police enforce traffic laws more consistently in more locations than my department or any police agency in any community can do. These cameras assist our efforts to provide for the safe movement of traffic, and no other reason. They cost the average taxpayer nothing. Only the person who pays the ticket pays for the camera.
Keep in mind that New Jersey only allows red-light cameras at intersections where “previous engineering, enforcement and educational efforts have not been effective in decreasing traffic violations or crashes attributed to red-light running.” No city has rushed to install cameras, but every city with cameras has turned to them as a last measure to make dangerous intersections safer. How can opponents justify doing otherwise? To say no to red-light cameras as a final deterrent to dangerous red-light running is to say yes to red-light running. That just isn’t acceptable.
I am encouraged by the transportation department’s report on red-light cameras. It finds that right-angle crashes or T-bone collisions decreased 15 percent overall in the first year cameras were in use at 24 intersections compared with the previous 12 months. For cameras in place for two years, right-angle crashes decreased 57 percent the first year with cameras and 86 percent the second year. I expect this progress will continue.
All crashes are disturbing, but not all crashes are the same. While rear-end crashes usually damage the car alone, T-bone collisions more often end in injury or death to the driver and passengers because of the angle of impact and because of the high rate of speed the red-light running is traveling to beat the light. Often, the person hurt or killed is not the driver who ran the light. It is this tragedy that red-light cameras target. This year’s report and last year’s shows the cameras are successful in doing what they are designed to do.
No traffic collision is acceptable, which is why rear-end crashes also need to be addressed. However, it’s misleading to blame red-light cameras for rear-end collisions. In most cases, the person at fault in a rear-end crash is following the lead car too closely or is traveling too fast to stop in time. We can learn to drive more carefully. This year’s New Jersey report shows we are learning already. In the course of 12 months, the number of tickets police issued for violations caught on camera fell by 50 percent. That shows drivers are changing the way they drive so they can stop running red lights. If we can learn to stop on red, we can learn to control our speed and distance from the car ahead of us. As rear-end crashes fall total crash numbers will follow.
This report is not the final say on red-light cameras in New Jersey. State law requires that at least three other annual reports are to be written and reviewed before the future of photo enforcement is decided in our state. There is no need to rush this process. Driver behavior does not change in a day. It takes time. Likewise, cultural changes sometimes occur in small increments. Consider Linden. This city’s three intersections with cameras made this year’s report. Right-angle crashes decreased from nine the year before cameras were installed to six the first year with cameras. A small change, but a lifesaving change. Isn’t that what matters? It is for me.