Former Traffic Court Judge Serving New York and New Jersey

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Is it fair for cities to outsource operation of red-light camera systems?

For many motorists, red-light traffic cameras are the bane of their existence, recording and issuing extremely costly traffic violations for a momentary lapse in judgment. In fact, motorists aren't the only ones who have taken issue with red-light traffic cameras. Both highway safety advocates and other privately funded groups have disputed the efficacy of the cameras in terms of preventing accidents.

Interestingly, another group has joined in the crusade against red-light traffic cameras. However, their primary point of contention is not safety issues, but rather whether the outsourcing of traffic cameras to private industry is a fair practice.

According to a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), 20 percent of Americans live in communities where red-light traffic cameras are both installed and operated by privately-run companies.

What makes this significant is that many of these communities enter into contracts with the companies whereby they are entitled to a portion of traffic citation proceeds.

The PIRG report outlined two general types of contracts

  • Contracts in which communities share revenue with privately run companies either on a per-ticket basis or through a predetermined formula. To illustrate, in Suffolk County, New York, half of the revenue generated by red-light traffic cameras is split with a vendor.
  • Cost-neutral contracts in which fixed monthly payments are linked to traffic ticket revenue. Here, communities have the option of delaying payment if ticket revenue does not cover the entire monthly payment. According to PIRG, however, this gives vendors extra incentive to maximize the number of tickets issued.

The general idea of the PIRG report seems to be that these privately run companies clearly have an incentive to issue as many tickets as possible and, unlike local government officials, are not accountable to citizens for their practices.

"Automated traffic ticketing tends to be governed by contracts that focus more on profits than safety," said Phineas Baxandall, one of the report's co-authors.

Do you agree with the report's conclusion about red-light traffic cameras and their operators? Do you think red-light traffic cameras are perhaps a necessary evil?

Stay tuned for further developments from our New York vehicle traffic law blog ...

If you have been issued a traffic violation, fight to keep your driving privileges and your insurance premiums as low as possible. Consider contacting an attorney who understands New York's confusing legal system, and who can help you evaluate your options and make the right decisions.

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.


ABC News, "Study Questions Outsourcing Traffic Camera Systems" Oct. 27, 2011

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