City to install red-light cameras

Posted 6/12/09

Littleton drivers will soon enter a national debate: Do cameras at red lights work? And are they worth it? The city’s police department says they …

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City to install red-light cameras


Littleton drivers will soon enter a national debate: Do cameras at red lights work? And are they worth it?

The city’s police department says they are, which is why crews have begun installing red-light camera enforcement at the intersection of Littleton Boulevard and South Broadway.

The technology will also be installed at Santa Fe Drive and Mineral Avenue, and Santa Fe Drive and Bowles. Littleton is contracting with American Traffic Solutions Inc.

The three intersections have historically averaged 30 to 40 accidents each year, according to Littleton Police.

Littleton is installing cameras to photograph and ticket drivers who run red lights. Some other Colorado cities have the technology, including Denver, Lone Tree and Greenwood Village.

“Improving safety is our priority, and this red-light camera program will help us reduce violations, crashes, and injuries caused by red-light violators,” said Littleton Police Chief Heather Coogan.

“This safety program will save lives, help the traffic flow in a more orderly way, and make Littleton roadways safer by reducing the number of red-light violations at no additional cost to taxpayers.”

But the red-light camera program is not without controversy. Some say the technology leads to an increase in rear-end collisions. Others, including Littleton Mayor Doug Clark, say it is nothing more than a money generator for cities.

During a Jan. 20 Littleton City Council meeting, Clark said he thought the program was “close to being purely revenue driven.”

Coogan told city councilmembers at the same meeting that the purpose of the technology was to “not have personnel tied up with traffic accidents in these major intersections leaving the police available to handle their number one priority — to handle calls for service.”

In the past, photo enforcement programs have been seen as a traffic safety support system for areas difficult for the police department to manage effectively, said Bill Kroske, vice president of business development for American Traffic Solutions.

“That is still the case for the most part: monitoring intersections, school zones and road ways that are difficult for an officer to cover, or areas where the camera system is more efficient,” he said.

But of late, camera technology is taking on a greater roll, according to Kroske.

“Most U.S. cities are suffering serious budget problems causing cutbacks, hiring freezes, and restricted overtime in departments across the board,” he said. “This problem can be particularly problematic for the police departments in these times as the demands on PD services grow. Domestic violence, minor and serious crimes increase when times are economically tight.”

State law caps tickets for violators caught by cameras at $75, and it doesn't allow points against a driver's license for those offenses.

In Littleton, violations recorded by camera will be forwarded to a police officer, who will then evaluate the evidence. If the officer confirms that the captured images indeed show a violation, a summons will be issued to the registered owner of the vehicle.

The owner can choose to pay for the violation by mail (there are no points assessed against a person’s driver’s license for red-light camera violations), or contest the issue in Littleton Municipal Court.

The owner will be provided with the captured images of the violation at the time the summons is issued.

While proponents say the cameras cut down on dangerous, sometimes fatal, broadside collisions, opponents see them as technology to increase government revenue while actually increasing rear-end accidents.

According to a media report by the Federal Highway Administration, some cities have seen an increase in rear-end accidents because of traffic cameras.

“Because drivers frequently slam on the brakes when they fear a ticket, rear-end collisions increased by 15 percent, and the number of injuries they caused rose 24 percent,” according to a Federal Highway Administration study of seven cities.

“It is easy to try to find negatives to these programs — rear-end accidents or money grab for the city — but in fact there are 10 to 1 studies and reports that support that these programs lead to a dramatic drop in serious collisions,” Kroske said.

In their first year Greenwood Village had a 30 percent drop in accidents at one intersection, and 40 percent at their second site, he said.

Another controversy surrounding traffic cameras is whether they generate unnecessary government revenue.

“There were 78 right-turn violations and no accidents and we put in a system that costs $6,000 per month and there is voluntary compliance — how is it anything more than revenue generation?” Clark said at the Jan. 20 council meeting.

City Manger Jim Woods said the program was not intended to be revenue generating.

An ordinance pertaining to the red-light enforcement will come before council for a second reading July 7. The system will go into effect 30 days after a trial run, provided council passes the ordinance.


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