Watchdogs on the Prowl in New Jersey

By Gary Biller, NMA President

Call us skeptics. We at the NMA wear that label proudly. Keeping government agencies honest in their dealings with the motoring public has been a full-time job for the past 30 years, and there are no indications that we’ll be able to ease up anytime soon.

You just have to turn to a developing story in the Garden State for proof. Several weeks ago the NMA teamed with New Jersey Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon to raise serious questions about the legality of the red-light cameras being operated at 85 intersections in 21 municipalities across the state. It is well known that red-light cameras thrive when yellow light intervals are set too short without any corresponding improvement in intersection safety.

O’Scanlon and the NMA raised enough public concern about improperly set yellow light times that on June 19th the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) was compelled to suspend the issuance of automated tickets for nearly 75 percent of the American Traffic Solutions red-light cameras operating in the state program.

In light of the controversy over photo enforcement in New Jersey, the Editorial Board of the Newark Star Ledger agrees that ticket cameras are not the solution.

To rectify the situation, the NJDOT asked each city to submit the data necessary to recertify the ticketing devices. Some did so within a day of the suspension, even though traffic surveys were required to determine the 85th percentile approach speed for each intersection. State law mandates that yellow light intervals be set based on that approach speed (as opposed to the posted limit).

In essence, the cities had to justify both the approach speed and the associated timing of the yellow light to get the cameras up and running, and collecting money for them again.

Not surprisingly – we are cynics as well as skeptics – the NJDOT announced last week that the cities provided the necessary information to clear every one of the 63 red-light cameras to begin issuing tickets again. A spokesperson for the NJDOT acknowledged that the state agency did not verify any of the data provided by the municipalities to enable the recertification of the cameras.

Our response is twofold. Through O’Scanlon’s office and Steve Carrellas, the New Jersey Director of Government and Public Affairs for the NMA, an open public records request was filed requiring the NJDOT to disclose the information it used for the camera recertification. Additionally, the NMA has commissioned a survey team consisting of experienced traffic engineers and licensed professional engineers to determine the 85th percentile approach speeds and measure the yellow light intervals at several of the intersections in question.

The information leading to the camera recertification in New Jersey has to be double checked, particularly since the NJDOT has failed to do so. Filling that role will be Assemblyman O’Scanlon (representing his constituents) and the NMA (representing the driving public).

Our findings will be released for public review. As true skeptics, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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