Home News Go for red: Legislature should expand NYC’s red light camera program

Go for red: Legislature should expand NYC’s red light camera program

The clock is ticking until the expiration of the city’s lifesaving and crash-reducing red light camera program this December. Instead of the bare minimum of a reauthorization, Albany legislators should shake off their preternatural tendency towards inertia and expand the program such that it covers more than just 150 intersections in a city with nearly 14,000 of them. The data is long in on the effectiveness of this policy in safeguarding the public, something that surely all legislators claim to want.

In most of these cases of Albany legislative wrangling, there’s at least cogent if often unconvincing arguments on both sides. Here, we struggle to imagine any real argument against the expansion of a red light camera program; who, exactly, is on the pro-running-red-lights side? The cameras are only activated to specifically record violations of the state vehicle and traffic law, and do so accurately. They are low-maintenance, cost-effective, unobtrusive, automatic, unbiased and create no risk of escalation.

Absent that rare, real emergency, there is no legitimate reason for running a red light, and doing so is incredibly dangerous. Last year, a total of 29 people were killed in crashes where a driver ran a red, all of them at intersections that did not feature the cameras.

Hundreds more people are injured, property is destroyed and pedestrians are forced to live in fear of a tiny minority of reckless drivers. We know that simply introducing real and unavoidable consequences can quickly change behavior for most of these drivers. A lack of accountability is all but an invitation to break the law, to disastrous effect.

The fact of the matter is New Yorkers are proud of our status as the only big city in the country where the majority of the population does not own nor rely on a car. There’s no imminent future where vehicles, be they cabs, delivery trucks, service or private autos, won’t have a role to play on our streets. But they should be kowtowing to the needs of a dense, transit-rich and often walkable city, not the other way around. As quotidian as the act of driving a car can seem, we should never forget the damage they can do when operated poorly.

Of course, cameras are more effective when the penalties are substantial. Cameras can only record infractions, but it’s crucial that these infractions generate enforcement that actually changes behavior or, if need be, keeps dangerous vehicle operators off the streets entirely. The bungled Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program was a real missed opportunity to use the tools at our disposal to tamp down on these public health hazards, but we don’t have to abandon the idea just because it was poorly run the first time.

In the waning weeks of their session, the Legislature should enact laws to add to the enforcement mechanisms the state DMV, which has access to all vehicle and driver records and can suspend a registration quickly and practically automatically if a vehicle crosses a certain threshold of violations. One pending bill would expand the number of authorized red light cameras to 1,325 while another would grant the suspension authority to the DMV. Both should be passed expeditiously, so that they can do their part to save lives.


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