7/27/2016Virginia Town Destroyed Required Red Light Camera Records
Virginia Beach, Virginia ignores state law requiring the study of engineering improvements prior to installing red light cameras.
Virginia law requires that municipalities formally consider alternatives to red light cameras before they are allowed to install the devices. When Joe Bahen, a licensed traffic engineer representing the National Motorists Association, asked the city of Virginia Beach if he could take a look at the formal documentation of these engineering reviews, he was shocked to learn that the evidence had been deleted.
"The initial studies prepared for VDOT [the Virginia Department of Transportation] for clearance to install a red light camera at the subject intersection have already been destroyed in accordance with the Library of Virginia record retention schedule," Virginia Beach city attorney staffer Nancy L. Bloom wrote in response to Bahen's request.
Under the state's red light camera statute, no red light camera may be installed without a formal "engineering safety analysis" that considers a number of alternatives to cameras, including longer yellow warning times. Motorists have attempted to fight photo citations based on the lack of a study before, but these legal attacks have gone nowhere. In 2014, a Virginia Beach Circuit Court judge ruled in Virginia Beach v. Dallas-Gilmer that it was legally impossible to challenge to a $50 photo ticket under state law.
The law changed last year, as the General Assembly enacted House Bill 1355, which revoked the free pass that municipalities had enjoyed and gave ticket recipients the right to appeal their case in a court of record, all the way up to the state Supreme Court. The law even allows jury trials for camera tickets in circuit court.
A few city documents from 2009, when the cameras were first installed, escaped the shredder. Bahen reviewed them and found the violation surveys conducted by Redflex Traffic Systems were riddled with incorrect information. For example, the survey claimed there were zero right-turn on red violations, even though the Australian firm has since mailed over 400,000 right-turn tickets to vehicle owners in Virginia Beach.
"The false Redflex surveys surely misled VDOT, and caused VDOT to approve the thirteen intersections without realizing that the right-turn signals needed to be upgraded," Bahen wrote in a complaint to the city. "Most certainly, the false and misleading Redflex surveys conducted in 2009 do not satisfy the requirements for any new contract."
Bahen points out that many of the ticket recipients were making perfectly safe right-hand turns on red at an intersection that should have had the engineering improvement of a dedicated right-turn arrow. That, Bahen says, is something a legitimate traffic engineering study would have pointed out.
"The red light camera system should have been designed to reduce injury crashes," Bahen wrote. "Instead, it was designed using Redflex's 'violation calculator' to maximize profit. As a result, injury crashes are 19.5 percent greater than would have been expected had the system not been installed."
A high-ranking Redflex official has already admitted that he used bribes to convince city officials in Virginia to install red light cameras. Although the city where the bribery took place has yet to be publicly identified, Virginia Beach has been the state's most prominent and enthusiastic backer of automated ticketing machines.