Privatized Red-Light and Speed Cameras May Put Profit Ahead of Safety

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First Nationwide Study Recommends Safeguards to Protect Californians.


Sacramento, CA – A new research report released today outlines problems with the growing trend among cities to outsource traffic enforcement to red-light and speed camera vendors.

“Automated traffic ticketing tends to be governed by contracts that focus more on profits than safety,” said Pedro Morillas, legislative director for CALPIRG. “Too often, local governments are taken for a ride by red-light camera vendors overly focused on their bottom line instead of public safety.”

The report, titled Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead; The Risks of Privatizing Traffic Law Enforcement and How to Protect the Public finds that approximately half of states have enabled the use of automated traffic law enforcement.  Municipalities in these states contract with private companies to provide cameras and issue citations to traffic violators. Citizens have often objected to privatized forms of traffic enforcement and many municipalities have found themselves in legal trouble when they attempt to change or update these contracts. Traffic engineering alternatives, such as lengthening yellow lights, are often the best way to reduce injuries from red-light running. However, those solutions too often get ignored because contractors and sometimes municipalities are more focused on increasing revenue from tickets.

State Senator Joe Simitian authored a bill this past legislative session aimed at ensuring public safety is the first consideration for cities looking to use private red-light cameras. Simitian’s Senate Bill 29, which would have reined in some of the potential for abuse of red light cameras, was vetoed by Governor Brown this year despite broad bipartisan support in the Legislature. 

“I believe traffic tickets should be only issued to improve public safety, not to raise revenue,” said State Senator Joe Simitian.“Regrettably, that’s not what happens in some jurisdictions.  In too many cases, issues of accuracy, privacy, and due process are taking a back seat to the profit motive.  I think we can keep folks safe and still give the driving public a fair shake.” 
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:

1) 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.

2) Ensure that contract language is free from potential conflicts of interest.

3) Avoid direct or indirect incentives for vendors that are based on the volume of tickets or fines.

4) Retain public control over traffic policy and engineering decisions, including cancelling contracts if the public is dissatisfied.

5) 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.

“We’ve already run into controversy over the use of red-light cameras here in California. We need to learn from past mistakes to keep our roadways from becoming ATMs for private companies,” concluded Morillas.

The report can be accessed at this link HERE


CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, is a non-profit, non-partisan consumer group that takes on powerful interests on behalf of its members, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being.