Red-light camera finds 38 violators

By: JOHN HALL - Staff Writer

MURRIETA ---- Even having their photo taken hasn't deterred an average of 10 motorists a day from violating the law since Murrieta activated its first red-light camera last week.

Over slightly more than three full days, 38 red-light violators were photographed by the camera along westbound Murrieta Hot Springs Road at Margarita Road, Murrieta police Officer Jay Froboese said Tuesday.

Of those 38 recorded violations, warnings were mailed to an unlucky 13, Froboese said. That's because some fine-tuning is still being done with the aiming of the camera. In the other 25 photos, there may have been a problem with the lighting or a portion of a license plate may have been cut off, preventing police from being able to say exactly who was the registered owner of the vehicle.

In order to hold up in court, the photographs must include both a complete license plate as well as an identifiable driver.

"It's sort of surprising that we are still seeing this many (violations)," Froboese said, citing a number of media stories about the camera being online as well as signs at the intersection notifying motorists about it.

"We've done as much as we can as a police department to let people know about the camera," he said. "If you run the light, the camera is going to get you."

This is the first of three red-light cameras planned in Murrieta ---- which is the first city or community in Riverside County to install them.

A camera will be activated at westbound Clinton Keith Road at Nutmeg Street on Feb. 15, with another going online about 45 days later in both directions of Murrieta Hot Springs and Whitewood roads.

The 38 photographed violations at Murrieta Hot Springs and Margarita roads happened Thursday, Friday, Monday and through 10 a.m. Tuesday, Froboese said. Police have not received information from the weekend, he said, possibly because of a software problem with the company from which the city leases the camera.

The camera was activated at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, and violators are receiving only a warning for the first 30 days. After that, they can expect to get a $357 ticket mailed to them. Of that amount, the city receives $126, with the rest going toward court costs.

Murrieta is leasing the cameras from Nestor Traffic Systems for about $5,000 a month for each approach. The contract includes a clause which states that the city is never billed more per month than the revenue generated that month.

"The company tells us to expect (the number of citations) to decrease 90 percent over the first 90 days" when motorists start realizing where the cameras are, Froboese said.

"We don't expect to make any money off of this," he said. "These (cameras) are being installed strictly from a safety standpoint."

During a videotaped test done last year to qualify what sort of problem the city might have with red-light runners, officials found the westbound approach to Murrieta Hot Springs and Margarita roads had 58 violations over a 16-hour period.

Of the 13 photographed violations since Thursday, four of those were "blatant enough that there was the potential for a major accident," Froboese said. In those, the driver plowed through the intersection three or more seconds late, he said.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the running of red lights nationwide killed more than 900 people and injured more than 168,000 others in 2004.

The independent, nonprofit educational organization ( found that about half of those 900 deaths were pedestrians or the occupants of vehicles hit by the red-light runner.

Most of the 38 violations recorded by the new camera in Murrieta happened during peak traffic hours, Froboese said.

The violators seemed to be fairly evenly divided between men and women and they are mostly local drivers, Froboese said, with one from Torrance and one from out of state.

Although police have received a number of complaints from people saying big rigs and other commercial vehicles are running red lights in that area, Froboese said none of the 38 recorded violations were of those type of vehicles.