N.J. Red Light Camera Bill Awaits Gov. Corzine’s Signature

January 10, 2008

New Jersey drivers may soon be posing for unwanted portraits.

The Legislature this week voted to allow municipalities to install cameras to catch drivers disobeying traffic signals.

The bill needs Gov. Jon S. Corzine’s signature to become law.

The Assembly voted 49-25 to approve the plan.

An initial Senate vote on the legislation fell short of the 21 votes needed to pass, but it passed 22-1 on a second vote.

Under the plan, violators would get tickets through the mail featuring high-resolution, color digital images of their vehicle driving through an intersection when the light is red.

While such cameras were rare just 10 years ago, they’re now used in more than 300 U.S. communities, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That includes major cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington.

Sen. Joseph Coniglio, the bill sponsor, contends the cameras would help improve driving safety.

“These cameras do save lives,” said Coniglio, D-Bergen. “They do prevent accidents. They do save dollars.”

Coniglio noted studies by the institute found that the cameras cut red light violations.

“Give it a chance,” Coniglio said. “It will work.”

But critics contend the cameras, among other things, deny alleged violators the right to confront an accuser in court. They also claim the cameras can lead to innocent drivers being charged and will do nothing to deter unsafe motorists.

“This nothing more than the generation of money for municipalities,” said Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, who cited statistics that show the cameras can increase rear-end collisions. “This is not a public safety issue.”

The AAA Clubs of New Jersey said a November poll showed 77 percent of 1,000 surveyed motorists supported cameras, but it also expressed concern about money and legal issues.

“We know from experience that this technology can work if it’s improved safety we’re after, not increased revenue,” said David Weinstein, of the AAA Clubs of New Jersey. “Our concern with this specific legislation is that motorists get tagged with points but cannot face their accuser in a court of law.”

The equipment isn’t welcome everywhere.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox declared use of red light and speed cameras to be illegal. And the Minnesota Supreme Court struck down red light cameras, ruling it was wrong for police to ticket the car owner, regardless of who was driving.

New Jersey’s proposal would establish a five-year pilot program to test its effectiveness. The state transportation commissioner could let as many municipalities participate in the program as the commissioner deems appropriate.

The state assesses two points against a license for motorists who fail to obey a traffic signal and charges fines ranging from $85 to $140, but those caught running a red light by a camera wouldn’t be assessed license points.

“This is wrong,” said Assemblyman John Rooney, R-Bergen. “It’s Big Brother watching you.”

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