Proponents of New Jersey's controversial red-light camera program are running out of arguments.
A new Department of Transportation report on two dozen intersections that have had red-light cameras for at least a year clearly shows that the cameras are not reducing the number of accidents.
In fact, the cameras are making those intersections less safe. Rear-end collisions at those intersections were up by 20 percent, as drivers trying to avoid the stiff fines for just missing a yellow light slam on their brakes instead. And the cameras have increased the cost of accidents. The report says the cost of emergency response, medical care, and vehicle and property damage increased nearly $1.2 million in the first year of the camera's operation.
Without the claim of making intersections safer, there is no justification for the cameras, or for continuing a pilot program that is supposed to end in 2014. That's why camera proponents are trying hard to spin things in their favor.
The DOT release emphasized the fact that accidents have declined at two Newark intersections where cameras have operated for two years. But when the data from other intersections are included, the numbers tell a different story.
The report does show that right-angle collisions - where one vehicle "T-bones" into the side of another - declined by 15 percent overall (although they increased at some intersections), and that's enough for some people to declare the program a success. But if the overall number of accidents is up - and it is - the safety argument is difficult to make.
Of course, the cameras are hard for many local officials to give up because they are big revenue generators. In the first six months of the year, Newark's 16 cameras produced $3.7 million in revenue from traffic tickets. And much of this revenue has come not from drivers who are running red lights, but from people failing to stop long enough when they make a legal right turn on red.
But the larger problem with this program is that it turns motorists into cash machines. And it provides an incentive to keep that cash coming by not taking other measure that experts say would make intersections safer, such as lengthening the duration of yellow lights and increasing the span of time between one light turning red and another turning green.