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Red Light Camera Danger Highlighted on DRUDGE REPORT! Links to the PALM BEACH POST Story Shown Below. This is Not What Belmar Needs!

Rear-end collisions jump at red light camera

intersections in West Palm Beach

By Charles ElmorePalm Beach Post Staff Writer

Updated: 10:11 p.m. Monday, May 24, 2010

Posted: 5:15 p.m. Monday, May 24, 2010

Rear-end collisions more than doubled and accidents increased overall in the first 70 days of red-light cameras in West Palm Beach compared to the same period of 2009, traffic records reviewed by The Palm Beach Post show.

In the name of boosting safety, not revenues, West Palm Beach issued 2,675 camera fines worth a third of a million dollars in March alone.

But at the three city intersections from Feb. 21, when fines began, through May 1, The Post found:

–Rear-end collisions increased to five from two. Rear-end accidents sometimes go up with cameras because anxious drivers are more likely to stop abruptly.

–Overall accidents increased to seven from six.

–The only injury in either period came under cameras, in a rear-end crash in March 2010. The injury was “non-incapacitating,” according to records supplied by cities and compiled in Palm Beach County’s accident database.

City officials did not dispute the data but said it was too soon to draw meaningful conclusions.

“A larger sample size is needed to make any determinations about the program’s effect on accidents,” said city spokesman Peter Robbins.

Advocates for a law passed this spring giving state authorization for the cameras said the whole point was to increase safety – and there was no time to lose.

“We’ve got to do something,” said state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, during the legislative session that ended in April.

The losing side in the debate contended another motive is in play. Motorist group AAA pointed out a private camera contractor working with West Palm Beach and several other cities, American Traffic Solutions of Arizona, is partly owned by Wall Street titan Goldman Sachs, which gained control of two ATS board seats in 2008.

“It’s more about the money than it is traffic safety,” said Kevin Bakewell, a vice president with AAA in Tampa who unsuccessfully urged Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the state law.

In West Palm Beach, a barrage of fines dwarfed the total number of wrecks, yet accidents still increased. The city issued 1,337.5 citations per crash in the first full month of fines, March. There were two documented accidents in that month at the three city intersections with red-light cameras: Australian Avenue at Banyan Boulevard, Belvedere Road at Parker Avenue, and Summit Boulevard at Parker. By comparison, there was one crash at those intersections in January, the last full month without fines.

The state law that takes effect July 1 increases to $158 from $125 the standard fine mailed to car owners, but takes $70 to $100 of each fine for the state. Local governments share the rest with camera vendors.

The state acted in response to lawsuits challenging local authority over cameras, but West Palm Beach had already become the first city in Palm Beach County to issue fines with red-light cameras. More than half a dozen cities and the county are poised to proceed with cameras of their own, and their public justification in each case has been safety.

Palm Beach County plans to put cameras at 10 intersections because research in other states such as Virginia tends to show at least a moderate reduction in side-angle crashes with cameras, even if rear-end crashes sometimes go up, said traffic division director Dan Weisberg. A 2007 study in Virginia found rear-end collisions increased 27 percent after red-light cameras were installed, while red-light running crashes decreased 42 percent.

In the end, cameras are just one more way to enforce existing law, he said.

“If a cop saw someone run a red light and gave them a ticket, no one would bat an eye,” Weisberg said. “”Why is the camera a big deal?”

One contentious issue with cameras, though, has been how strictly to enforce slow–and-go right turns on red – illegal on the books, but not typically written up by a cop in person unless particularly aggressive or dangerous.

After scores of complaints, West Palm Beach has since offered refunds for two-thirds of its March fines. The city decided April 5 to stop enforcing slow-rolling right turns on red. Even Mayor Lois Frankel got nabbed in a right-turn case, initially indicating she planned to fight it but later saying she would donate the fine to charity.

“When we saw the number of right-on-red citations that were being issued and the amount of money that was associated with these citations, we decided to stop issuing the right-on-red citations altogether and refund the money of those who had been cited,” city spokesman Robbins said.

“The cameras are a well-intended effort to make our roads and intersections safer, and were never intended to become a game of ‘gotcha’ with motorists. We recognized very quickly that the right-on-red citations did not represent nearly as big a safety issue as people driving straight through the intersections, and that’s why we made the common-sense decision to change our program and refund the money of those who had paid violations for right-on-red turns.”

West Palm Beach initially announced fines would be issued at five intersections, but permitting issues held up cameras at Australian Avenue intersections with Belvedere and 25th Street. Before Crist signed the law, city officials were also hampered by legal considerations from placing cameras on state roads, which are often larger and feature heavier traffic.

Will West Palm Beach move ahead with more cameras? The latest indication seems to be no.

“We do not currently have plans to expand the program, but we will continue to monitor it and review the data to determine if any changes are needed,” Robbins said.

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