Problems Identified with Growing Trend of Red-Light and Speed Cameras

First Nationwide Study Recommends Safeguards to Protect Arizonans

Arizona PIRG Education Fund

A new report released today by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund outlines problems with the growing trend among cities in Arizona and across the country to outsource traffic enforcement to red-light and speed camera vendors.

“Too many cities wrongly sign away power to ensure the safety of citizens on the roads when they privatize traffic law enforcement. Automated traffic ticketing tends to be governed by contracts that focus more on profits than safety,” said Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund.

The report, titled Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead; The Risks of Privatizing Traffic Law Enforcement and How to Protect the Public finds that as many as 21 jurisdictions in Arizona have enabled the use of automated traffic law enforcement. These municipalities contract with private companies to provide cameras and issue citations to traffic violators. Members of the public have often objected to privatized forms of traffic enforcement and many municipalities across the country have found themselves in legal trouble when they attempt to change or update these contracts. Arizona also is home to American Traffic Solutions, which is one of the largest suppliers of automated traffic law enforcement systems nationally.

The City of Tempe discovered the dangerous side of privatizing law enforcement.  According to the Arizona Republic, the city’s camera system, which was installed and operated by Redflex Traffic Systems, led to a net loss of over $15,000 in 2010. The city also was sued by Redflex in 2010 because it had been offering drivers the option of attending traffic classes in lieu of paying a violation fine.

“Traffic engineering alternatives, such as lengthening yellow lights, are often the best way to reduce injuries from red-light running,” said Unrein. “However, those solutions too often get ignored because contractors and sometimes municipalities are more focused on increasing revenue from tickets.”

The report recommends stronger guidelines to ensure that automated traffic enforcement programs must focus on improving road safety, rather than ticket revenue.  Deals between local governments and traffic camera vendors should:

  • Put public safety first in decisions regarding enforcement of traffic laws – this includes evaluating privatized law enforcement camera systems against alternative options without regard to potential revenues.
  • Ensure that contract language is free from potential conflicts of interest.
  • Avoid direct or indirect incentives for vendors that are based on the volume of tickets or fines.
  • Retain public control over traffic policy and engineering decisions, including cancelling contracts if the public is dissatisfied.
  • Ensure that the process of contracting with vendors is completely open, with ample opportunity for public participation and each ticket listing where to find online data about automated ticketing for each intersection.

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