Tag Archives: National Coalition for Safer Roads

Red light cameras: ‘A local tax on law-breakers?’

Are red light cameras simply a way to levy a tax on people who break the law? 

Douglas Berman, a law professor at The Ohio State University, stakes this claim on his blog.

More than 500 cities — including Bremerton — in 25 states now use them, according to the National Coalition for Safer Roads. Critics argue that governments are just using them to make money, they’re a sign of Big Brother and they don’t improve safety.

But here’s Berman’s take:

“Assuming the data reported here on lives saved is accurate (a big if), I am inclined to be a vocal advocate for greater use of red-light cameras.  Indeed, as long as these cameras do not increase traffic accidents, I still favor a policy that raises revenue through what is essentially a local tax on law-breakers.

Especially if monies collected from traffic violations properly recorded by red-light camera are used on other public safety fronts, these cameras seem to me to be a win-win for all fans of utilitarian approaches to crime and punishment.  Or, dear readers, am I missing something important in this roadway safety cost/benefit analysis?”

I suggest you check out the comments section to see some interesting dialogue.

My colleague Steven Gardner posted the stats of Bremerton’s revenue from red light tickets on the Kitsap Caucus blog. Here are the numbers:

In 2010 Bremerton took in $685,232 in revenue for red-light cameras. The money sent to Redflex Inc, the Arizona company that runs the system, was $443,639. That gets us $241,593 for the year. In 2009 Andy Parks, former financial services director, said it cost the city about $7,500 a month in staff time to run the program. I can only assume now that the figure came from paying for the officers to look at the ticket and estimating the extra cost it takes to run each infraction through the municipal court system. That’s $90,000 a year. So if that accounts for all the city takes in, the annual net income for Bremerton in 2010 would have been $151,593.

The cameras do seem to improve safety at intersections that have them, according to The Insurance Industry for Highway Safety. From a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article Berman cited, “a study showed a 24 percent decline in fatalities from red-light running in cities where the cameras are used, and reductions of 40 to 96 percent in violations.  It has estimated that 150 lives were saved over five years in the 14 biggest cities that use them.”

I fully realize this is a debate that goes on and on (and on and on). But Berman’s argument — that red light cameras are a law breaker’s tax deserves attention in its own right. Anyone find merit in it?