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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Drivers buying into red-light camera program, official says

A red-light traffic camera sign is pictured at

A red-light traffic camera sign is pictured at the intersection of Merrick Road and Millburn Avenue in Baldwin in a May 7, 2014 file photo. Revenue from Nassau's red-light camera program fell more than eight percent in 2014, according to a new county report. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Money talks.

And in the case of Nassau’s red-light camera program, money — or more accurately, the threat of a hefty fine — apparently has been convincing drivers to stop at red lights, and before making turns.

As a result, according to 2014 data — in the latest comprehensive report available — revenue from the program fell more than 8 percent in a year.

For years, the county has been saying that red-light cameras are part of a safety program — to which many drivers in the region will retort, um, no, it’s about the financially stressed county trying to bring in money.

The 2014 report from Nassau’s Traffic Safety Board, released recently, provides something for both sides of the debate.

For Nassau’s program, it shows a decrease in violations; a 34 percent drop in accidents involving injuries; a 39.2 percent dip in rear-end crashes; and a 79 percent dive in head-on crashes.

For doubters, there’s recognition that more and more drivers are opting to keep money in their wallets rather than turn it over to the county.

In all, a decrease in accidents translated into a drop in violations, which, in turn, meant a decline in fine and fee revenues for Nassau’s budget. Even at that, however, Nassau in 2014 still took in $34 million in red-light camera revenue.

Bottom line, though: Drivers approaching intersections with cameras are changing their behavior, county officials said.

That’s remained true in 2015. And, thus far in 2016, according to Chris Mistron, the Nassau’s traffic safety coordinator, who is now crunching the numbers for Nassau’s 2015 report.

“The trend is still in the downward position,” he said in an interview Monday. “It is still showing a leveling and a decrease.”

Does Mistron see drivers slowing at intersections, stopping before turning right on red lights and — as was a goal of a school speed-camera program ended by the legislature after an uproar by residents — slowing down in school zones?

“Yes,” he said.

Is it because drivers are more aware?

“I definitely think so,” he said. “I think there has been a buy-in to the program,” he said.

Really? Or are drivers simply working harder to avoid tickets?

No, Mistron said.

Some of the calls he gets now are from residents complaining — not about the program, but because of frustration that “nobody is making rights on red any more,” Mistron said. Drivers can turn on red, he stressed — but only after “the wheels on their vehicle have come to a complete stop at the line.”

Then there are calls from residents who have red-light cameras installed at locations near them.

“They know that the number of accidents have dropped, but they call to make sure that the camera stays because they’re concerned that the numbers will go up if it is removed,” Mistron said.

In Suffolk, the 2014 report showed increases in citations, and in revenue since 2013. And while accidents involving serious injuries were down, there was a substantial increase — of 42 percent — in rear-end crashes.

Suffolk had 100 red-light cameras in 2014 — the max allowed by the state. Nassau, meanwhile, is slated to install its 100th sometime this year.

So motorists’ choice is clear: Obey the law, or pay up.

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