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Suffolk red-light cameras: Rear-end crashes increased

A report for 2016 showed that rear-end accidents were up by 35 percent, while accidents with injuries declined by 1.5 percent.

A sign and red-light camera are pictured on

A sign and red-light camera are pictured on Middle Country Road near the intersection with Holbrook Road in Centereach on Aug. 18, 2011. Photo Credit: NEWSDAY / Thomas A. Ferrara

Rear-end crashes at intersections with red-light cameras in Suffolk County rose by more than 35 percent while accidents with injuries declined by 1.5 percent, according to a county report on 2016 data released Friday.

The cameras generated $30.9 million in revenue for the county in fines and other charges, including late and administrative fees, according to the report.

The program, initiated in 2010 — with additional cameras added in 2011, 2013 and 2014 — showed the overall number of collisions at intersections rose 1.5 percent. Right-angled collisions, however, dropped by 23 percent.

The report compares the 2016 data with collision numbers collected from the three years before the camera program was implemented — 2007, 2008 and 2009.

The report contains the most recent data available for 100 red-light camera intersections throughout the county, using data for 2016 gathered by the state Department of Transportation.

County officials say the cameras promote safety. But some county legislators and residents say the program is aimed at generating millions of dollars in revenue to help plug Suffolk’s budget hole.

John Goode Sr. of West Babylon said he has had to change his driving behavior at the red-light camera intersections.

“I’ve had to stop short a few times,” he said.

His son John Goode Jr. has received an $80 camera ticket for making a right turn on a red light at the corner of Straight Path and Route 109 in Babylon.

“They’re a very big inconvenience,” Goode Jr. said. “It’s only just to generate revenue.”

Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency Executive Director Paul Margiotta in a statement highlighted the program’s reduction in accidents involving injury.

“Since 2014, Suffolk County has a proven record of reducing accidents involving injury that help keep our roads safe. We are encouraged by the continued decrease of total accidents involving injury at red-light camera intersections even as distracted driving involving smartphone use has skyrocketed,” Margiotta said.

But Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who has sponsored bills to remove the cameras, renewed his call Friday for them to come down, saying they simply are moneymakers.

“If it’s about safety, they are lying to the public — period,” Trotta said.

Suffolk Legislature’s Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory said removing the red-light cameras would threaten public safety because they have shown to reduce the number of accidents with injuries.

He said rear-end crashes were likely the result of drivers unaware of an intersection’s camera and/or failing to leave enough space between cars.

“We were all told when we got our permits that we are supposed to leave room between you and the car in front of you. Clearly, some people are not following those safety protocols,” said Gregory (D-Copiague).

“It would be foolish to eliminate a program that shows it is reducing the types of crashes that are deadliest.”

About 350,000 fines for red-light camera violations were paid in 2016, the report showed.

Suffolk Public Works Commissioner Gil Anderson told a legislative committee last month that the county had selected an outside consultant, Brookhaven-based Louis McLean Associates, to do a top-to-bottom review of the county red-light program.

Michelle Sirois, a West Babylon resident, has gotten an $80 red-light camera ticket at an intersection on Montauk Highway in Lindenhurst and thinks the program does help improve road safety.

“It teaches young kids not to keep putting their pedal to the metal,” she said.

But Shelly-Ann Williams of West Babylon thinks the program fails to deter bad driving. She’s noticed many near-collisions at the red-light camera intersection of Grand Boulevard and Deer Park Avenue in Deer Park, she said.

“I’ve never seen an accident there, but I see close calls,” she said. Williams said she thinks the program doesn’t deter bad driving. “Some people, the safer drivers, they will stop,” she said. “But I think they’re making money off everyone else.”

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