New Report Outlines Problems with Red-Light and Speed Cameras

Media Contacts
Sonia Ashe

Iowa PIRG Education Fund

(Des Moines, IA) – 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.
“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 Sonia Ashe of Iowa PIRG, the Iowa Public Interest Research Group. “That shouldn’t happen,” Ashe added.
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.
Cities like Des Moines and Cedar Rapids have entered into contracts with Gatso, USA, a private company based in Beverly Massachusetts. In both of these contracts, the companies profit correlates directly with the number of tickets issued as they receive a percentage of each red light ticket. In Des Moines, Gatso receives $27 (out of $65) for each red light ticket, and in Cedar Rapids the receive $30 for every $100 ticket that is issued.
“It’s not surprising that many see automated traffic enforcement as a way to boost revenues, and the companies that operate these systems certainly have an incentive to make them profitable,” said Ashe. “However, camera systems that are designed with profit in mind rather than road safety hurt the public interest.”
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.

“We are lucky that Iowa hasn’t yet seen the controversy and lawsuits over red-light cameras found in states like Missouri. Looking at the growth of this industry around the country, we want to learn from problems elsewhere to prevent them in Iowa,” said Ashe.
The report can be accessed at this link [URL on website]
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Iowa Public Interest Research Group, Iowa PIRG, is a statewide non-profit, non-partisan consumer advocacy group that stands up against powerful special interests for the public interest. Find out more on this issue and others at our website: