Los Angeles pulls plug on red light cameras

(July 29, 2011) At least one major U.S. city disagrees with the recent statements of a couple of national organizations over the effectiveness of red light cameras at busy intersections throughout the nation.

The Los Angeles city council earlier this week voted 13-0 to pull the plug on the red-light cameras at 32 busy intersections that snap photos of unsuspecting motorists and mail them a ticket for $480. They will be switched off for good on Sunday.

In June, the National Coalition for Safer Roads commended the U.S. Conference of Mayors for passing a resolution "strongly supporting" the use of red light and speed safety cameras. The resolution says this technology helps reduce injuries and fatalities on the nation's roadways. See the story on MotorwayAmerica.

In Los Angeles, there was a constant debate over the cameras, which drew mixed reviews on whether it improved public safety.

The program was started in 2004 to discourage drivers from running red lights. On the surface, it might look like a cost-efficient, foolproof way to increase traffic safety and fill the city coffers. But issues of privacy aside, L.A.'s program hit some big snags:

• The the majority of photo tickets have been for illegal right turns, not running red lights.

• Of the 180,000 tickets issued since 2004, 65,000 are yet to be paid. Court officials have not aggressively pursued or penalized violators.

The council remains divided over what to tell the nearly 65,000 motorists who were photographed running a red light, but haven't yet paid the $480 fine.

Despite the city's inability to force payment of the red-light citations, officials said there is no plan to offer refunds to the tens of thousands of offending motorists who paid the fine.

As they debated whether to extend the city's contract with American Traffic Solutions beyond Sunday's deadline, the council and Police Commission grew more and more concerned about the program's cost and effectiveness.

Although the council voted to switch off the cameras, it did not decide when the contract would be terminated. Arizona-based ATS manages the tickets generated by the cameras.

Sources: Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Times