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Red-light camera revenues, accidents drop in Nassau, Suffolk, reports show

Nassau and Suffolk officials attribute the drop in

Nassau and Suffolk officials attribute the drop in red-light camera revenues and overall accidents in 2015 to motorists being more aware of the cameras and driving more carefully. Above, a red-light camera at Indian Head Road and Jericho Turnpike in Commack on April 11, 2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

Revenues from Nassau and Suffolk’s red-light camera programs either dropped or were flat in 2015, while the total number of crashes at intersections with cameras declined in both counties, according to new county reports.

The annual reports on the counties’ red-light camera programs show the revenue generated by the devices changed little in Nassau, even as the county added cameras at 12 new intersections.

Suffolk experienced a 6 percent decrease in revenue from 2014.

The data — the latest available — also show that accidents at red-light camera intersections fell more in Nassau than in Suffolk, with reductions in some categories of more than 40 percent.

And while the total number of injury accidents at Suffolk red-light camera locations fell by 5 percent, the number of rear-end collisions increased by 30 percent.

Nassau and Suffolk officials said the drop in revenues and the overall decrease in the number of accidents shows motorists have become more aware of the cameras and are driving more carefully.

“It shows people are learning,” said John Marks, executive director of Nassau’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency. “The program is working.”

But Suffolk lawmakers have pointed to the rise of injury accidents at some red-light camera intersections as evidence the program needs more analysis. Suffolk Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) has introduced a bill to suspend the program while the county conducts a thorough safety study.

“We should be taking a hard look and stopping the program to make sure the cameras should be there and at any intersections at all,” McCaffrey said.

Revenue declines

Suffolk in 2015 collected $31 million in tickets, fees and fines from 353,903 citations at its 100 red-light camera intersections, according to the report from the county’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency. In 2014, Suffolk collected $33 million on 380,809 citations.

Nassau’s program generated $33.7 million in 2015 from 400,773 violations at its 84 red-light camera intersections, according to the county’s Traffic Safety Board.

In 2014, when the county had 72 camera intersections in operation, Nassau collected $33.8 million from 349,633 citations. Part of the revenue take that year came from collections on a large number of violations that were overdue by several years, officials said.

Paul Margiotta, director of Suffolk’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, said officials are not concerned about a decline in revenue.

“It’s a safety program,” he said. “Any revenue generated is ancillary to a safety program.”

The fine for a red-light camera violation is $50 in each county. With administrative fees, violators in 2015 paid a total of $80 per ticket in Suffolk and $95 in Nassau.

The GOP-controlled Nassau Legislature increased the administrative fee to $100 last year — for a total per ticket cost of $150 — to raise revenue as the county struggled to close a budget deficit.

American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that operates Nassau’s red-light camera system, was paid just over $8 million in 2015, while Suffolk paid its vendor, Xerox State and Local Solutions, nearly $9.4 million, according to the county reports.

Fewer crashes in Nassau

Nassau saw a sharper decrease in red-light camera crashes than Suffolk.

The total number of crashes in 2015 at Nassau red-light camera intersections declined by 31 percent compared with the 12-month period before the cameras were installed, while accidents involving injuries fell by nearly 43 percent, the report shows.

In Suffolk, the average number of crashes at red-light intersections dropped by 6 percent compared with the year before the cameras were installed. Accidents involving injuries declined by 5 percent — although the number of injury accidents was up at nearly four dozen intersections, Suffolk’s report found.

Suffolk, which installed its first camera in 2010, compiles its data differently than Nassau, totaling the yearly average number of accidents at each site since devices were installed.

Among all accident categories, Suffolk registered its biggest drop in right-angled crashes, which fell by 35 percent. In Nassau, side-impact collisions dropped the most — by 11.3 percent.

But rear-end collisions — typically a troublesome problem at red-light camera intersections as some drivers stop abruptly to avoid violations — increased by 30 percent in Suffolk but declined by 40.9 percent in Nassau, according to the data.

Nassau also had a 76 percent drop in head-on crashes, a category that Suffolk does not monitor.

In total, 11 Nassau red-light camera intersections logged small increases in crashes involving injuries compared with the year before the cameras were installed, the data show. Sixty-three intersections had a decrease and 10 stayed the same.

But accidents involving injuries increased at 46 Suffolk camera intersections compared with the 12 months before installation. Only 51 intersections saw a drop in injury accidents and three remained the same. Bill Hillman, chief engineer with Suffolk’s Department of Public Works, said there was not enough data to determine the cause of the increases at the 46 intersections.

Alec Slatky, a policy liaison with AAA Northeast and a supporter of the programs, said the Suffolk data raise concerns.

“They should take a fresh look at the data and see what intersections are working and which ones are due for a change,” Slatky said.

There have been no reported traffic fatalities at any Nassau red-light camera intersection since the program began in 2009, the data show. Suffolk does not report data on fatalities at its camera intersections.

Programs spark debate

Reacting to the Nassau and Suffolk reports, some county legislators criticized the red-light camera program as little more than a hidden tax designed to bring in revenue and help balance the budgets of two counties struggling with multimillion-dollar deficits.

Nassau Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) called the county’s program a “money grab” and said the cameras were “clearly meant as an end-around to raising taxes.”

Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), noting the increases in injury accidents, said, “Clearly it’s not about safety if almost half the locations had increases.”

Program opponents in Suffolk have posted an online video that instructs motorists how to redirect cameras away from intersections. Some have placed plastic bags over cameras or severed camera wires.

But Chris Mistron, Nassau County’s traffic safety coordinator, said his office carefully selects camera locations with high accident volumes and is not focused on sites that will generate the most revenue.

“We are very honest in how we approach it,” Mistron said. “If we can’t make an improvement in reducing accidents, what good is the program?”

The State Legislature authorized 50 camera locations each for Nassau and Suffolk in 2009. In 2012, state lawmakers allowed each county to add 50 sites. Suffolk installed its full allotment of 100 cameras in 2014. Nassau has red-light cameras in place at 87 intersections.

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