Profit Is A Primary Purpose Of Red Light Cameras

In recent years, a variety of cities, including Phoenix, have installed red light cameras at intersections in hopes of better enforcing traffic laws and ensuring the safety of everyone on the road. Recently, however, an increasing number of jurisdictions have begun to second guess whether the increased reliance on photo enforcement was a wise decision. Indeed, it seems that concerns over safety and law enforcement have become secondary to making money.

Several recent studies demonstrate the kinds of money that red light cameras are generating for cities and states across the country. In Florida, for example, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability in the state legislature discovered that tickets arising from these cameras made the state approximately $119 million in 2013 alone. Cameras in Chicago have raised close to $300 million from 2003 to 2013. It is clear that some cities – some large, some small – are using these cameras to balance their budgets.

The Arguments For And Against Cameras

Proponents of the cameras say that they have played a large role in reducing traffic accidents in major metropolitan areas. According to a recent report by the Insurance Institute, major metropolitan areas with photographic enforcement systems saw 24 percent fewer crashes due to red light violations in 2011 alone. In the following year, approximately 133,000 people were hurt and 683 were killed in these sorts of accidents. If these cameras help address that issue, then, some argue that they are worthwhile. Some law enforcement officials have said, too, that the cameras allow them to focus more resources on preventing serious crimes.

Opponents of the cameras point out that these safety claims are a bit more complicated than many may think. Florida, for example, actually saw an increase in non-fatal accidents after the cameras were widely installed throughout the state. Furthermore, there is no denying the obvious financial incentive to installing these cameras. In most jurisdictions, up to half the amount collected in fines goes to the private companies that operate the photographic enforcement systems. That being the case, these companies have little incentive to take steps to ensure the fairness of the systems that generate violations.

Perhaps the most serious criticism of these cameras is that they raise serious questions about fairness and privacy. In a traditional traffic stop, a driver at least has an opportunity to speak to a police officer. That is simply not the case when cited by a camera system.