NMA E-Newsletter #113: Silent And Ineffective

A story out of Albuquerque, New Mexico points to the incapability of red-light cameras to improve intersection safety.

Over the past two years, 31-year-old Amber Gray has received 69 violations via the cameras for passing through intersections after the traffic signals turned red. Her license has long since been revoked, but she keeps racking up the violations. If the local police are expecting the Redflex cameras to magically stop such behavior, they will be standing by for a long time while Ms. Gray keeps adding to the $10,000 in photo tickets she has ignored to date.

This begs a comparison to the Phoenix/Scottsdale driver who, in late 2009, donned a monkey mask while exceeding freeway speed limits in his vehicle. The police were convinced that the driver who displayed the mask on at least 40 photo-radar tickets was Dave Vontesmar. Department of Public Safety Lieutenant Steve Harrison noted that suspicion by saying, “Our officers actually conducted surveillance on him (Vontesmar) and observed him putting the mask on just prior to the photo-enforcement zone.”

An obvious question for Arizona DPS officials is to ask why, after watching Vontesmar put on the monkey mask at the last minute, they didn’t physically pull him over after he went through the speed zone, supposedly in violation of the posted speed. This would have provided the police with a positive identification of the driver and, if that driver was operating his vehicle unsafely, would have lessened the risk to other freeway travelers.

Instead, the DPS relied on the speed camera technology to provide post-facto evidence against the masked culprit.

Eventually Vontesmar was served with $6700 worth of unpaid photo tickets that he contested on the basis that the DPS had no direct proof that he was the man behind the mask at the time of the citations. Four of those tickets have been dismissed, and at last count, a few dozen others were still pending in the court system.

In February, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety issued a flawed paper that suggested lives were being saved by red-light cameras.

As television outlets reported the story of the IIHS claims, many aired background video captured by Redflex red-light cameras that showed one horrific broadside accident after another. The camera company provided the footage as proof positive that photo enforcement is needed to prevent serious intersection accidents and to stop drivers from running red lights.

Ironically, the video proved only that red-light cameras are passive observers, silent and ineffective at benefiting intersection safety.

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