- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2007

RICHMOND — Several Virginia localities are in the early stages of establishing or reviving automated traffic-enforcement systems that use cameras to catch red-light runners, highway safety advocates say.

Legislation allowing localities across the state to implement red-light cameras took effect July 1. The technology allows cameras to snap photos of cars that run stoplights. The license plate number is used to identify the car’s owner, who gets a ticket in the mail.

Pilot programs allowing the cameras in several Northern Virginia localities and Virginia Beach expired July 1, 2005. Measures to reinstate those programs or expand them failed until last winter, when the General Assembly passed a bill authorizing red-light cameras statewide.

“We’ve known from the beginning that the localities that had it previously wanted to reinstate it,” said Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

They apparently will be joined by some newcomers. Newport News officials have chosen three busy and dangerous intersections for red-light cameras. Richmond Police Chief Rodney Monroe has said he would like to have cameras at two or three intersections by the end of the year, although no official action has been taken.

Nancy Rodrigues of the Virginia Association of Driver Education and Traffic Safety said yesterday she has been surprised by news reports that some localities that had never expressed an interest in installing red-light cameras are now considering them.

However, it takes a while for the political, regulatory and procurement processes to work, so cameras aren’t going up immediately.

“It’s still a little bit soon,” said Leslie Blakey, executive director of the National Campaign to Stop Red-Light Running. “It will probably take even those who had programs before several months to establish programs.”

Bob Otten, traffic enforcement supervisor in Fairfax County, agreed. He said it could take the county about a year to get the program up and running again, in part because the locality’s annual budget was passed before the photo-red law.

Also, the county might replace its old system with more advanced technology, he said.

Traffic safety advocates say the cameras reduce red-light running, therefore decrease the number of injuries from broadside collisions.

“We feel that because we had up to a 70 percent reduction in red-light running at some intersections, the message was getting across,” Mr. Otten said.

Opponents have argued the use of cameras is an invasion of privacy, and that the decrease in broadside collisions is at least partially offset by an increase in rear-end collisions.

A new study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council confirmed that cameras decrease red-light running crashes but increase rear-end crashes. The study found that results significantly vary by jurisdiction and intersection.

“These results cannot be used to justify the widespread installation of cameras because they are not universally effective,” the council said in its report. “These results also cannot be used to justify the abolition of cameras, as they have had a positive impact at some intersections and in some jurisdictions.”

The council, a partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation and the University of Virginia, recommends making photo-red decisions on an intersection-by-intersection basis after careful study.

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