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It's Official: "Red Light Cameras" Don't Work

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Ever wonder why, with all those "red light cameras" installed across the nation, no city involved in using them has reported any big decrease in accidents at the affected intersections or even any significant income gain? In fact, in Los Angeles yesterday, it was revealed, after a city-wide audit, that the 32 red light cameras installed throughout Los Angeles have actually cost the taxpayers some $2.6 million just the past two years.

You'd think that with the tickets in the LA program costing around $500 a pop, there'd be at least a little spiff for some city program... like for the city's desperate school system or the libraries which Mayor Antonio Villaragosa has shut down.

Incidentally, San Diego has also decided to take action against the installers and maintainers of their red light camera system, having experienced some of the same problems Los Angeles has just revealed.

In one fell swoop, Los Angeles found out yesterday that almost 1/2 of all red light tickets go unpaid with the driver not needing to fear any reprisals, that the placement of LA's red light cameras was purely decided on a political, not a safety, basis and that the city gets only about $150 from the $500 tickets (those that are paid) with the rest going to the state and the majority going to the company which installed and maintains the red light camera systems.

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According to Rich Connell in the's Los Angeles Times:

Some 45% of Los Angeles' red-light camera tickets are currently unpaid, partly because holds are not placed on driver's licenses and vehicle registrations for unsettled photo enforcement infractions, Los Angeles officials said Wednesday.

The disclosure came as City Controller Wendy Greuel issued an audit finding the photo enforcement program bypassed some of the city's most dangerous intersections and is costing the city more than $1 million a year to operate, despite fines and fees that can exceed $500. [...]

This scandal came to light several months ago, when that LAPD report showing no improvement in accident rates at many of the intersections was released to the public. Several local news reporters, print and electronic, went over the internal audit and found it appeared that not only were accident rates not declining at these intersections, but both the city and the public seemed to be paying for a service which was providing no benefit for them.

Soon after the story hit the papers and the airwaves, City Controller Wendy Greuel, who no doubt saw a great story on which to grandstand, also made clear she has the power to order the changes discussed in the Times' story, as she controls many of the city's purse strings.

So for those who have red light cameras in their city and have been wondering if they are at all effective, the third-biggest city in the nation has the answer: No.

Deployed correctly, could they do a better job? Or have these highly-expensive and difficult-to-maintain systems been a boondoggle since the beginning; are they old technology which companies are trying to sell as 21st century capable? Finally, and perhaps most important, if nearly 50% of the tickets issued in Los Angeles have gone unpaid because the "accused" never signs a "promise to appear" and it's impossible for a citizen to cross-examine a camera in court should they challenge the ticket, is it at all possible (or necessary) for the law to regress to the point where some Kodak Brownie mounted on a light pole determines the innocence or very expensive guilt of a Los Angeles driver?