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Delaware Town Refunds $800,000 In Red Light Camera Tickets
Wilmington, Delaware caught ignoring a state law requiring safety justification for automated right turn on red tickets.

Right turn on red
Wilmington, Delaware ignored a state law restricting the use of red light cameras against motorists turning right on a red light. In a statement Tuesday, Mayor Mike Purzycki said the town would issue refunds to 6700 vehicle owners ticketed over the six month period from July 2016 to January 2017. He also pulled the plug on all right turn ticketing.

"We chose the prudent and fair approach of suspending enforcement until the statute is clarified," Purzycki said.

The mayor's budget now reflects a $1.4 million reduction that will result from cutting off right-turn tickets. In 2001, the town had hired Xerox (now known as Conduent) to set up and operate automated ticketing machines at 31 intersections. The program generated $4,508,551 in 2014, with right turn tickets accounted for 40 percent of the profit.

Right turn ticketing should have ended on July 1, 2016 when then-Governor Jack Markell (D) signed House Bill 450 into law. The measure, a capital improvements bill, also reformed the state's red light camera law. The new text requires the Delaware Department of Transportation's approval for any red light camera installation based on "recognized safety and accident criteria." Every existing camera must be removed if the device fails to measure up. The text essentially outlaws automated ticketing for boulevard stops.

"Jurisdictions operating an electronic red light safety program can only issue right turn on red violations if there is safety and crash data to support it as determined by the Department of Transportation," House Bill 450 states.

Cities will have a hard time coming up with data to support such a program. A 1995 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) (view study) concluded that, "Because the number of crashes due to right turn on red is small, the impact on traffic safety, therefore, has also been small." Safer Streets LA used data from Los Angeles, California to conclude rolling right turns accounted for 0.08 percent of crashes in the city (view report). A 2001 NHTSA analysis found a motorist could travel a billion miles before having to worry about a rolling right turn accident (view study).

Wilmington's own data suggest that the red light camera program has failed to reduce accidents, though the city blames a change in the way collisions are reported for the difference.

"Combining data between the former crash reporting system and the new CARS system may show an increasing trend in overall crashes as a result of the more complete data system," the city admitted in its 2015 annual report.

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