Seeing red
Thursday, June 22, 2006

SMILE ... You're on traffic camera. Red-light violators in New Jersey could find a surprise alert in their mailbox, if an Assembly bill to allow surveillance cameras at dangerous intersections continues to gain momentum. And that's potentially good news for law-abiding drivers.

Red-light running is a big problem. According to The Record's calculation, over a 2-year period ending last June 30, these violations resulted in 147 deaths and 48,048 injuries in the Garden State. At North Jersey trouble spots like River and Anderson streets in Hackensack and Saddle River Road and Fairlawn Avenue in Fair Lawn, injuries average one a month.

The Legislature, concerned about privacy issues and the potential for misusing cameras as a way of boosting revenue, barred photos for traffic control in 1992. But a bill that sailed through an Assembly committee last month with bipartisan support would change that.

Drivers who ignore a red light could be issued an electronic traffic ticket, though no points. The safeguards would include allowing cameras only at accident- and fatality-prone intersections, requiring camera warning signs at those spots, limiting photos to the rear license plate, and capping the mail-in fines at $54.

Those are good ideas. But what if an intersection's real problem is visibility or the light's timing? Before installing any cameras, the state should undertake a thorough engineering review -- and correct any problems. Testing a pilot program in a few high-accident towns would be one way to start. These camera systems can cost $100,000 each, and money could become an issue for the Senate, where the bill's prospects are uncertain.

There's a compelling reason to go to all that trouble: In most of the 160 communities across the nation that use camera surveillance, The Record's Road Warrior reported, far fewer drivers are running the red.

The bottom line here is safety.