New Report Outlines Problems with Red-Light and Speed Cameras

First Nationwide Study Recommends Safeguards to Protect New Mexican’s

NMPIRG Education Fund

Albuquerque, NM – 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 Alexander Corkett of NMPIRG Education Fund, the New Mexico Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. “That shouldn’t happen,” Corkett 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.

Even in the wake of a popular referendum which solidly rejected the use of red-light and speed cameras in Albuquerque, the city council won’t vote on red-light camera contract until November or December and the company must be given 60 days notice before ending the contract.  As a result, citizens of Albuquerque find themselves in a situation in which voters solidly rejected the automated ticket system in a non-binding ballot, yet the city is losing $100,000 per month on the contract; meanwhile, the city council has decided to allow this to continue until January or later.

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.

“New Mexico has already seen controversy over the use of red-light cameras. We need to learn from our mistakes here and elsewhere,” said Corkett.