Red-light, speed cameras spark passionate opinions

Traffic moves past the sign for the red-light Traffic moves past the sign for the red-light camera on Old Country Road in Westbury on Aug. 18, 2011. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Let's dip into the email box on last week's column about red-light and school speed-zone cameras and consider what some of you had to say:"If a red light camera saves one life, is it worth it? Are you willing to guarantee that removing the red light cameras will not result in one unnecessary loss of life?"

Nope, I can't guarantee that; nor can anyone else. But the point isn't to eliminate cameras, only to use them wisely. By zeroing in almost exclusively on cameras as revenue-generators, officials in both counties give short shrift to safety.

"Slowing down at a yellow light in preparation for a red has resulted in some horn blowings, screeching brakes, swerve arounds . . . and [in] one instance running through a changing light to avoid a rear-end collision. I guess that's just the way it's going to be."

Actually, with clear signage and a renewed driver education effort, it doesn't have to be that way at all.

"I find myself holding my breath and hoping the light doesn't turn yellow just as I get to the intersection . . . [Timing] is not consistent across the board."

You're not the only one. As I learned last week from Judy Cartwright, Newsday's community watchdog, who has been dealing with county and state officials on this issue for years, timing on yellow lights differs at intersections according to a number of variables, including speed and pitch of a roadway.

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"The only fighting chance the motorist has to combat these red light cameras is to learn their locations -- and there are websites that do provide that information -- and then be super-cautious when approaching those intersections."

Yes. And intersections would become safer, too. But what do cash-strapped counties do when needed revenues fall off? They move cameras, or rent portable ones.

"I don't care what anybody says, I hope the counties (both Nassau and Suffolk) make billions off of them."

@Newsday

And so do county officials, although even Nassau County's not anticipating revenues that high. A 2012 county comptroller's audit, in fact, noted a rapid rise in the volume of unpaid red-light camera tickets -- from 7,884 as of December 31, 2009, to 46,862 as of Dec. 31, 2010, to 107,841 as of May 31, 2011.

"I have been driving a truck carrying hazardous material for over 20 years. Our roads are out of control . . . people have been jamming on their brakes in front of me for 20 years, I never rear-ended anyone, ever. If you rear end someone who jammed on their brakes, you are driving too fast, following too close, or just not paying attention."

Which is exactly the kind of behavior red-light cameras are supposed to address. Yet, according to reports from both counties, rear-end collisions increase at some intersections after cameras are installed -- probably because the norm is to keep moving, even as the light turns yellow. Or because drivers don't want a fine for being caught with vehicles stopped on or beyond the thick white stop line.

"Is there any type of meeting being held where I can voice my opinion before these cameras are approved? If you can help me, it would be greatly appreciated."

Both counties have forwarded so-called home rule requests to Albany for permission to add school-zone speed camera pilot programs to existing red-light camera pilot programs. Send thoughts, complaints, support and suggestions to your Assembly member and state senator.

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