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New Jersey Rubber Stamps Red Light Camera Timing
Governor of New Jersey offers strong endorsement for red light cameras as he restarts photo ticketing program.

Gov. Chris Christie
The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) yesterday gave the go-ahead to cities and private vendors to reactivate their red light camera programs. The devices were shut down a month ago after twenty-one cities caught ignoring a provision of state law requiring the yellow signal timing at camera intersections to be certified based on a statutory formula. Governor Chris Christie (R) announced the ticketing program's restart on New Jersey 101.5 radio's "Ask the Governor" show on Tuesday after receiving a text message on air from NJDOT Commissioner James S. Simpson.

"All lights are certified without a problem," Christie said. "All the lights, the red light cameras, are certified."

To be valid, the yellow time where cameras are used must be set according to the speed at which 85 percent of traffic moves, not according to the posted speed limit. Cities often set up intersections with limits deliberately set far below the actual speed of traffic, which boosts the number of speeding tickets that can be issued. The lower limit also allows yellow signal times to be shaved by a fraction of a second, which will also boost the number of red light camera citations.

A few tenths of a seconds taken away from the yellow caution period may seem minor, but it represents significant revenue. The Texas Transportation Institute concluded in 2004 that yellows shorter by a second than the ITE recommended amount generated a 110 percent jump in citations (view report). The vast majority of those extra violations happened within the first 0.25 seconds (see chart). The Garden State governor did not deny the revenue motivation for municipalities in using cameras.

"Of course there's a monetary component to it, but if it comports with the statute and the amber light is the correct period of time," Christie said. "There's also a safety component to it."

NJDOT did not individually certify each of the 63 photo enforced locations in the state. Instead, each municipality certified itself as compliant and sent the documentation to state officials. Traffic engineers are known for performing traffic studies in non-free flow conditions in order to achieve the lowered 85th percentile speed desired by politicians. Christie bluntly responded to critics by offering a full endorsement for the use of automated ticketing machines.

"What are you complaining about?" Christie said. "You should be able to go through a red light if there's not a cop there and it's a freebie? Towns should have the right to make these decisions. As long as their red light camera program comports with the requirements of the statute, go ahead and do it."

Class action lawsuits have been filed seeking refunds of the funds collected during the time tickets were issued from uncertified locations.

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