Los Angeles scrapped its red light camera program, but Los Alamitos has no plans to follow suit.
In Los Alamitos, the data is clear: Red-light cameras save lives, said police Capt. Bruce McAlpine. So they will remain an enforcement tool.
This, however, is not the case in Los Angeles County. As of July 31, after heated debate and a 13-0 vote, red-light cameras were shut down. This came after it was disclosed publicly that paying hefty fines for camera-issued tickets was voluntary.
Of the 180,000 photo tickets issued in L.A. County since the program began in 2004, some 65,000 have been unpaid. Orange County isn’t facing these problems, and McAlpine said the cameras have reduced accidents and proven to be effective.
“The bottom line is Orange County will save lives, and lives will be lost in Los Angeles County because they are ending the program,” said Russ Rader, vice president of communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “The cities that are pushing forward with camera programs or sticking with their programs will save lives.”
Red-light camera enforcement started in Los Alamitos in 2005, when three cameras were installed. Two, located at the intersection of Katella Avenue and Los Alamitos Street, are for left turns, and one at the intersection of Katella Avenue and Bloomfield Street is for right turns.
“Our main goal is to reduce accidents and to improve the safety of motorists,” McAlpine said. “We do generate some revenue. It is minimal, but we aren’t doing this for the money. We are enforcing this program for the safety of the community.”
The cost of the program in Los Alamitos, which includes all camera installation and maintenance, is $4,500 per approach, per month, totaling $13,500. This is based on the new contract negotiated in September 2010. When the program started in 2005, the city was paying $5,700 per approach, per month, totaling $17,100 per month.
In July, there were 406 camera-recorded incidents. Out of that, 232 citations were issued. This is down dramatically from nearly 500 citations issued per month in 2005.
“We have seen this program work, and how long we continue to do this will be based on how long it continues to work,” McAlpine said. “If it continues to change the behavior of motorists and the numbers continue to drop, we have immediate plans in place to discontinue the program.”
Rader said red-light cameras are an effective deterrent to red-light running.
“There is a large body of evidence demonstrating that red-light cameras not only reduce red-light running, but also crashes. Especially the side-impact, T-bone crashes,” he said.
A study done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that traffic fatalities at intersections patrolled by red-light cameras fell 24 percent over a five-year period.
The study looked at the 14 largest cities using red-light cameras, including Long Beach, Bakersfield, Santa Ana and San Diego, and compared them with similar cities without cameras from 2004 to 2008. During that same period, 159 fewer people died in car accidents in the cities that use cameras, the study found. Rader said if cameras had been in use in all cities with populations above 200,000, an estimated 815 lives would have been saved.
There were 2.2 million intersection crashes in 2009--about 41 percent of all accidents. They resulted in 81,112 serious injuries and 7,358 deaths.
“This is really the perfect kind of traffic enforcement,” Rader said. “But you need to have a program that has teeth so that people know that they will have to pay the fine.”
The tickets aren’t cheap, with fines and fees that can top $500. However, the police station and courthouse are working hand-in-hand on issuing and collecting payment.
“Unlike the news reports in L.A. County where the officers and court weren’t following up, here in Orange County it is much different,” said McAlpine. “When we find out people have not paid their citations, we work with the court and the DMV to ensure tickets are paid. The system here works much, much different than it does in L.A., and it’s effective.”
The process of issuing a citation is “strenuous,” McAlpine said. “We want to be certain we have the right car, the right owner and a clear picture before issuing a citation.”
Motorists at anytime can head to the station to review tapes with a red-light camera officer. There are office hours every week, and McAlpine encourages motorists to stop in if they have any questions or concerns.
McAlpine said there are no plans for additional cameras in Los Alamitos. Though the option has been discussed, he said, “it isn’t a feasible option and we feel our enforcement efforts are better suited where they are.”
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