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Suffolk official defends county’s red-light camera program

Paul Margiotta, head Suffolk County's Traffic and Parking

Paul Margiotta, head Suffolk County's Traffic and Parking Violations Agency. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The head of Suffolk’s traffic court defended the county’s red-light program as a boon to safety on Thursday, but agreed the county should look at certain intersections at which injury accidents have increased.

Paul Margiotta, head of the Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, showed the Suffolk Legislature’s Public Safety Committee videos of tractor trailers, school buses and cars running red lights and getting into accidents. He pointed to a national study that said removing red-light cameras from jurisdictions increased traffic fatalities.

But Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said that at five red-light camera intersections along a mile and a half stretch of Great East Neck Road, between County Road 109 and Montauk Highway in the town of Babylon, total accidents have increased 70 percent and injury accidents have gone up 45 percent from 2014 to 2015.

At one intersection, there was one accident with an injury in 2014 and 11 in 2015.

“Do you think we should be looking at this intersection?” McCaffrey asked Margiotta.

“I do,” Margiotta said.

The county’s most recent red-light camera report released in July found an overall 5 percent decrease in injury accidents compared with the year before they were installed, but injury accidents increased at 46 of 100 intersections.

Right-angle accidents decreased 35 percent overall, while rear-end collisions rose by 30 percent.

Critics have consistently charged that the county’s red-light camera program, which raised more than $31 million in 2015, is geared to help the county balance its budget rather than improve public safety.

Margiotta said he’s confident in the program, but the engineering of the intersection was not under his jurisdiction. Under questioning from lawmakers, he referred queries about accident data to the Department of Public Works.

Department of Public Works Commissioner Gilbert Anderson, in a statement, noted that T-bone crashes, which are most likely to cause injuries, have sharply dropped. The department is “exploring options relating to further study and analysis.”

McCaffrey, the Republican leader, has a bill that would suspend the red-light cameras while the county studies their safety record. He said the county could complete the review before Jan. 1, when the moratorium would go into effect.

Alec Slatky, policy director with AAA Northeast, said the county should release more accident data at those intersections. He called the most recent county report on the program, “a positive report, but not universally positive. Some locations seem to have bizarre results.” Some intersections recorded zero injury accidents before the cameras were installed, for example.

Any analysis of the program should examine at least three years before installation, said Dominique Lord, a professor of civil engineering at Texas A&M University who has studied red light cameras.

“There needs to be a much more thorough analysis,” he said after reviewing the county’s report. “I don’t think anyone would implement a safety measure when you see that type of increase.”

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