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Report: Red-light cameras reduce crashes

A red-light camera monitors the North Service Road

A red-light camera monitors the North Service Road of the LIE at Ronkonkoma Avenue in Ronkonkoma. (Oct. 28, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

Nassau County's red light camera program has reduced traffic accidents an average of 12 percent to 16 percent at 40 intersections, according to a new county report.

At 32 intersections where the county compared 12 months of data before and after cameras began recording violators, there was an average 12.3 percent decline in crashes, although one showed a steep increase. Another eight intersections with six months of before and after data saw an average 15.5 percent drop in crashes.

The county began the program in August 2009, installing cameras at a total of 50 intersections, the maximum allowed by state law. Critics have said the cameras are solely a revenue-generating device.

But Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement, "While I hate red light cameras, I have to admit statistically they reduce accidents and save lives."

Nassau traffic safety educator Chris Mistron, who helped develop the county's red-light camera program, said the reductions show the cameras are effective. "People are slowing down as they approach the signals," he said. "Lower speeds mean less violent crashes."

The report by the Nassau County Traffic Safety Board examines accident data at 40 of the 50 intersections. Since the program's inception, red-light cameras in Nassau have generated $37.2 million in collections, with $11.2 million going to a private vendor who helps manage the program. In 2010, 368,498 red-light-camera tickets were issued, producing $14.9 million in collections, according to the report.

The report shows that one of the 40 intersections had a sharp increase in accidents: the junction of Old Country Road and Ring Road, which serves as an entrance to the Roosevelt Field mall.

From November 2009 to November 2010, total crashes at that site rose 86 percent, compared with the previous year, to 91 from 49. Cameras there generated 34,709 tickets in 2010, valued at about $1.7 million in potential fines.

Suffolk County, which also has cameras at 50 intersections, has yet to produce a report on the status of its program. Suffolk put up its first cameras in June 2010.

As for the increase in accidents at the Old Country Road-Ring Road intersection, Mistron said signage for those making a right into the mall from eastbound Old Country may have led some drivers to think no right on red was permitted.

He said the failure of drivers to make the right turn after stopping at red may have led to confusion and rear-end crashes. The signage at the intersection has been changed from "Stop Here on Red" to "Right on Red After Stop," he said.

The county report is required by state law. It was due June 1, but Mistron said he held off so that he would have more data to examine. He said that only recently have cameras been operating long enough to get a sense of their impact on road safety. Mistron said he excluded 10 red-light camera intersections from the report because they have been operating for a comparatively brief time.

Robert Sinclair, AAA New York spokesman, said when it comes to red-light cameras, attention should be paid to whether safety or revenue creation is motivating how they are used.

"Generally we support red-light cameras," Sinclair said. "But we found it curious, let's say, that there was such rapidity in the process that led to the creation of the programs once the economy went south in 2008."

Mistron understands that some drivers may never be fans of red-light cameras, but rejects the idea that the program is all about dollars.

"This is not a money grab," he said. "This has been set up from day one for purposes of safety."

Including both intersections with 12 months of before and after data and those with six months', the 40 intersections in the report showed an average 11.1 percent drop in head-on crashes, 30.5 percent decline in side-impact crashes and a 6.6 percent decline in rear-enders.

That rear-end collisions declined less sharply is not a surprise. Some studies have found increases in rear-end impacts after cameras are installed because drivers who are aware of their presence slam their brakes to avoid tickets, leading to pileups behind them.

Earlier this year, both Nassau and Suffolk submitted legislation requesting state approval to double the number of intersections with red-light cameras in each county to 100. The state Republican-controlled Senate passed a bill for each county, but the measure died in the Democratic-led Assembly.

With Robert Brodsky

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