Suffolk red-light camera sites: Some see rise in injury accidents
Nearly half the intersections in Suffolk County with red-light cameras have registered an increase in accidents involving injuries since the cameras were installed, according to new county data.
At 44 of the 100 intersections with cameras, the frequency of injury accidents through the end of 2014 increased compared with the three-year period before the program was implemented in 2010, a county report shows. The frequency stayed the same at three other locations and declined at the rest.
Countywide, however, crashes involving injuries dipped by 4.2 percent at intersections with red-light cameras through 2014 compared with the period before 2010. Total accidents decreased by 3 percent through 2014.
The data are contained in Suffolk’s report to the state for 2014, which the county posted online April 3. State law requires Nassau and Suffolk to issue annual reports each June 1 to help judge the effectiveness of the program. Nassau officials said they still were compiling their 2014 report.
Outside experts said the new Suffolk data suggest problems with the siting of the county’s red-light cameras.
“From what I see, the program should be re-evaluated on which sites need a camera,” said Dominique Lord, a professor of civil engineering at Texas A&M University who has studied red-light programs internationally, including in Chicago.
“If at half the sites you have an increase in [injury] accidents, it’s a sign there is a problem,” said Lord, who reviewed the report at Newsday’s request.
Suffolk County officials say the red-light camera program has boosted safety.
“It can be concluded that the red light camera violation system has aided in both the reduction of total accidents as well as the injuries sustained at red light camera enforced intersections,” said the report.
“I’m very happy accidents involving injuries are down,” said Paul Margiotta, executive director of Suffolk County’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency.
Margiotta said he was unaware that injury accidents had increased at some locations, but said, “we should be looking into it.” Margiotta said increased texting and talking on cellphones could account for increases in rear-end accidents and possibly injury accidents.
This year’s report was delayed by the state’s reporting of accident data, Margiotta said.
The red-light cameras, installed in Suffolk’s five western towns, have generated significant controversy.
Critics say the program, which issues $80 tickets for violations, was designed primarily to bring in revenues to help balance the county budget.
Opponents have posted an online video that instructs motorists how to redirect cameras away from intersections, placed plastic bags over cameras and, in one instance last year, sawed down a camera pole.
Suffolk Republican lawmakers, who have been critical of the red-light cameras, plan to introduce a bill Tuesday to abolish the program.
“This bolsters our point that it’s not based on safety, it’s based on revenue generation,” Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said of the number of intersections with increased frequency of injury accidents.
Among the report’s findings:
- The frequency of rear-end accidents rose by 42 percent overall, with 69 intersections registering increases.
- The frequency of right-angle accidents, or T-bones, decreased by 21.6 percent through 2014 compared with the three-year period before cameras were installed. The frequency of right-angle accidents increased at 34 intersections.
- Two intersections in Commack had the most significant increase in injury crashes since getting cameras. The injury accident rate more than doubled to 19 per year at Commack Road and Dorothea Street, and at County Road 14 and NY25.
- The cameras generated 444,008 tickets in 2014 and motorists paid $33 million in citations. The county paid its vendor, Xerox State and Local Solutions, $9.5 million in 2014, the county report said.
Gilbert Anderson, Suffolk Public Works commissioner, said his traffic engineers just received the red-light camera report on April 6, and would study intersections where accidents have increased and make recommendations if necessary.
“We’ll continue to look at this to see what needs to be done to improve the intersections,” Anderson said.
With Robert Brodsky