Cameras could catch speeders
Newburgh cracking down on careless drivers
By Tim Logan
Times Herald-Record

Newburgh - Before long, you might want to start smiling when you drive through the Town of Newburgh.

Because if officials there have their way, you'll be on camera.

The sprawling town wants to become the first place in New York state to install a photo radar system to nab speeders on its roads. It would post radars and cameras in a few spots to spy on lead-foot drivers. And if the camera catches you, expect a ticket in the mail.

It's an effort to fight speeding in the heavily traveled town, especially on side roads that some motorists barrel through to avoid Newburgh's often-clogged arteries.

"Hopefully knowing these things are out there and could be sitting anywhere could be enough deterrent," said Supervisor Wayne Booth. And if not "

"Well, if you hit someone in the pocketbook enough, they'll get the point."

It'd work like this, Booth says: The radar and camera would be posted along a roadside, maybe on a radar wagon that displays your speed, maybe hidden on a tree or hitched to a utility pole.

If the radar picked up a car traveling a certain amount over the speed limit, it'd snap a picture of the license plate.

And a ticket would be mailed to the owner of the car. No points would be added to your license, but there'd be a fine.

Those fines can mean big money, and Jim Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association, says the cameras may do more for town coffers than town roads.

"There's no evidence it does anything to improve traffic safety," he said. "All it does is generate money."

He points to Washington, D.C., which uses about 25 cameras citywide and has collected more than $95 million in fines since 2001, according to the Washington Times.

But raising money isn't the point, Booth said. Safety is.

When Newburgh installs the cameras, they plan to do so with much fanfare and public notice. And, Booth said, the town will usually let people know they're on camera.

"We want people to slow down," he said. "We can make them very aware that we're using these."

There are also questions about the accuracy of the readings that cameras give and about due process rights if tickets are issued by computer through the mail, instead of by a live police officer.

"The picture is considered to be inviolable," Baxter said. "But in fact, it can make mistakes."

Town Councilman Gil Piaquadio, who runs a surveillance camera company, says the quality of the cameras and the photos is top-notch.

But while red-light cameras at intersections are becoming more common, speed cameras are still rare.

They're used in Washington and in some parts of Phoenix, and were recently introduced in construction zones in Chicago. In New York, they're used to flag people who speed through E-ZPass lanes at toll plazas, but an effort to install them on New York City streets in 2001 died in the Legislature.

And that's where Newburgh's plan goes next. It requires a home-rule petition, which Assemblyman Tom Kirwan, R-Newburgh, says he'll introduce next session. If it passes, the cameras could be in place next summer.

To start, the town plans to buy three, at more than $15,000 apiece. They'll use them to supplement police on their current road patrols.

"The speeding is out of control in this town," Piaquadio said. "It's at least worth a try."