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Nassau red-light camera revenue hits $37M in 2013 as traffic accidents decline

Photo of the red light traffic camera sign

Photo of the red light traffic camera sign at the intersection of Merrick Rd. and Millburn Ave. in Baldwin on the afternoon of May 7, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Revenue from Nassau County's red-light camera program increased by 60 percent in 2013 to nearly $37 million as the county added cameras at 11 new intersections, according to a new county report.

The number of accidents at the county's 68 red-light camera intersections declined from 1,840 to 1,320 -- an average of 28 percent -- compared with the 12-month period before the cameras were installed, according to Nassau's Traffic Safety Board.

Accidents involving injuries declined by 22 percent, rear-end collisions decreased by 18 percent, side-impact crashes dropped by 37 percent and head-on collisions fell by 50 percent, the report said.

"Motorists are traveling slower as they approach intersections and stopping as a result of the cameras," said Nassau traffic safety coordinator Chris Mistron.

The report said Nassau's red-light camera program generated 495,865 tickets totaling $36.8 million in fines and fees in 2013. In 2012, when cameras operated at 57 intersections, the program generated $22.9 million in fines and fees -- a 12 percent drop from 2011.

Critics including Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) say the program is more about revenue than safety. Motorists have complained they are ticketed for minor infractions, such as slow rolling through right turns.

Fines are $50 per violation, plus a $30 administrative fee.

"The cameras are just a money grab," Solages said.

Revenue from Suffolk County's red-light camera program increased nearly 80 percent in 2013 to more than $17 million, as the county added new intersections to the program and a $30 fee to the $50 ticket, according to a report released late last year.

The first red-light cameras were installed in Nassau in 2009. American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based vendor that operates the red-light camera system, was paid $8.9 million in 2013 -- or 38 percent of total ticket revenue.

Suffolk, which has cameras at 100 intersections, paid its Maryland-based red-light vendor, Xerox State and Local Solutions, $5.2 million in 2013.

Revenue from the program originally was intended to fund programs for youth, seniors and the physically challenged. In 2012, with Nassau facing a budget crunch, the GOP-controlled legislature passed a bill directing the camera money into the county's general fund.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt dismissed a lawsuit filed by Claire Leder of Bayside, Queens, who got a red-light camera ticket in 2011 at Marcus Avenue in Lake Success. Leder argued that Nassau's red-light camera intersections did not conform to federal traffic standards mandating that the yellow light last for at least three seconds.

Leder asked the court to shut down the camera program, but Spatt said she failed to prove Nassau acted "intentionally or recklessly by lowering the duration of yellow traffic lights."

The State Legislature first authorized 50 camera locations each for Nassau and Suffolk in 2009. In 2012, state lawmakers allowed each county to add 50 camera sites.

The Nassau report shows that 946 motorists challenged their red-light camera violations in court in 2013, winning almost 16 percent of the time, data show.

Nassau's report shows that all types of collisions at red-light camera intersections have dropped since the program began.

There have been no reported traffic fatalities at any of the intersections since the program began in 2009, Mistron said.

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