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Virginia: Rutherford Institute Takes on Red Light Cameras
Civil rights group Rutherford Institute challenges legality and propriety of Albemarle County, Virginia photo ticketing program.

John W. Whitehead
A civil rights think tank on Friday urged Albemarle County, Virginia to cancel its red light program. In a letter to county supervisors, the Rutherford Institute made the case that the contract the county entered into with Australian vendor Redflex Traffic Systems violates the law and will likely not achieve the stated goal of reducing accidents.

"The Redflex contract incorporates a so-called 'cost-neutrality' provision whereby the company's compensation, up to the amount of the contractual monthly fee, hinges on the number of violations or monetary penalties imposed," the group's president, John W. Whitehead, wrote. "Regardless of how the fee arrangement is worded or structured, it is likely to be found in violation of Virginia law where the vendor has a financial incentive to ensure that a high number of citations are issued."

Virginia Code section 15.2-968 specifically bans compensation based on the number of violations issued. The Rutherford Institute provides free legal representation to individuals as a conservative alternative to the American Civil Liberties Union. The group also cited safety concerns raised by a number of independent studies of photo enforcement's effectiveness (view studies).

"The red light cameras are not proven to increase safety, and multiple studies indicate that they actually increase the number of crashes," Whitehead wrote. "The hard evidence thus casts doubt on the claims that the purpose of the PhotoSafe program is to enhance traffic safety."

In particular, the Virginia Department of Transportation concluded that accidents increased 29 percent in the Northern Virginia jurisdictions that used photo enforcement between 1995 and 2005 (view study). It is impossible for Albemarle to have an accident reduction at one of the two intersections selected for camera use because it has never had a single "red light running" related crash (view report). The institute suggested engineering alternatives would do more to increase safety.

"According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, intersection safety would be increased by simply lengthening the yellow light time or adding an all-red light interval," Whitehead wrote. "Rather than trading one type of crash for another as red light cameras do, increasing the duration of the yellow light is proven to be effective in actually enhancing intersection safety. Moreover, this cost-free means of achieving the county's stated goal carries none of the costs to motorists' privacy or community morale."

The group concluded by pointing out that the Redflex marketing material highlights the expertise of the company in "generating more revenue" for local government, providing the strongest "return on investment" in the industry.

"It is clear that the 'return on investment' Redflex references is not an increase in traffic safety, but rather an increase in revenue generated by traffic offenses at the monitored intersections," Whitehead wrote. "Whatever Albemarle County's actual intentions are in this matter, Redflex's stated goals for its system make the county's business relationship with the company unseemly."

The group asked county supervisors to re-evaluate the evidence and consider ending the red light camera program. A copy of the Rutherford Institute letter is available in a 275k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Albemarle County PhotoSafe Program Involving Red Light Cameras (Rutherford Institute, 12/3/2010)

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