New Report Outlines Problems with Red-Light and Speed Cameras

First Nationwide Study Recommends Safeguards to Protect Marylanders

Baltimore, Maryland – 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 Jenny Levin of Maryland PIRG, the Maryland Public Interest Research Group. “That shouldn’t happen,” Levin 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.

In College Park, Maryland for example, 250 drivers are ticketed every day.  However, many of the town’s roads, which have unposted school zones and cameras in speed transition areas, do not comply with state Department of Transportation regulations.  Optotraffic, the vendor that operates cameras in College Park and other municipalities in the state, has been criticized by AAA Mid-Atlantic for installing and operating inaccurate equipment.

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 Maryland hasn’t yet seen the controversy and lawsuits over red-light cameras found in states like Florida, Texas and Washington.  Looking at the growth of this industry around the country, we want to learn from problems elsewhere to prevent them in Maryland,” said Levin.