By Rodney Brown
City resident Janice Martin of Rochester’s eastside, where a lot of the cameras are concentrated, referred to the traffic safety program as a “Robin Hood” concept in reverse.
“It’s an unnecessary burden on low-income people,” she stated. “The greater percentage of city residents is living below the poverty line. We need to adopt programs that help us pay bills, not create bills.”
As part of the program, cameras have been installed at certain intersections to help enforce the city’s vehicle and traffic laws. The intersection locations have been selected based upon accident data and video surveys conducted by Redflex Inc., the company that is managing the program for the city.
Rochester implemented the Red Light Camera Program in October 2010, and Mayor Lovely Warren has asked city council to extend the program through 2019. In addition, the state legislature authorized the program’s extension before it adjourned the 2014 session.
However, since its reauthorization, many lingering questions about the program’s effectiveness, and ethical purpose, have remained.
In light of the outcry from the community, Rochester City Council President Loretta Scott said the intention of the Red Light Camera Program has not been to create an economic burden.
“I told somebody, of the things that annoy people; it’s the red light tickets,” Scott stated. “We get calls about snow plowing, but the thing I really get calls about are red light tickets.”
Nonetheless, she pointed out, “If you don’t run a red light, you don’t get a ticket. But, I do believe the council needs to look at it again. The data shows there is a significant reduction in accidents, but there are four areas where there’s an increase. So, on one hand it does support that. On the other hand, it doesn’t. So, we’ve got to weigh all of that.”
According to the city, the cameras capture still and video images of vehicles in the act of a red-light violation, which initiates the procedure to deliver a notice of liability to the registered owner of the vehicle. However, the city stated, the violation is a civil matter, and will not be reported to insurance companies, or generate points on a driver’s license.
Evidence captured by the red light cameras is reviewed three times, and approved by the Rochester Police Department before a notice of liability is delivered, by mail, to the registered owner of a vehicle. The cameras operate 24 hours per day, capturing still photographs and video of every vehicle that runs a red light at the intersection.
The cameras photograph only the vehicle and license plate of vehicles running the red lights. No images of the driver or passengers are captured.
Officials said vehicle owners are also responsible for violations by other operators of their vehicles. Car owners will have an opportunity to either appeal the notice, or pay the fine.
The civil violation carries an initial $50 fine. Then, if the initial fine has not been paid within 30 days, an additional penalty of $25 will be assessed. Ultimately, if the city does not receive a response, a “notice of judgment” will be delivered, and the case will be sent to the city’s collections agent.
Yet, once that happens, many city residents say they’re unable to pay the tickets, and, because the registered owner of the vehicle can drive the car unhindered, without settling the fine, many have ignored the notice of liability statements which have been mailed to their homes.
And, once it has been authorized, an official from the city’s Parking Violations Bureau can boot the owner’s vehicle in order to ensure payment.
“There are some people who have 30 to 40 tickets,” Scott stated. “Now, what does that mean? We get calls from people with this type of issue. I spoke with a woman, she had 15 red light tickets, and her car was booted. She couldn’t get to work, or do anything. It was really messing her up. So, I am concerned about the impact on people’s lives, not saying, in fact, she should not have that many tickets. The process you go through, before anything happens, is fairly long. You get letters and notices, so, there’s an opportunity to try and forestall it. But, when it hits, you’re in dire straits. The person was making payments through a settled arrangement she worked out with the city, and still got booted. So, I had to look to see what happened with that, and we were able to work it out. People can get payment arrangements, but, the booting of the vehicle is the concern. The tickets are a concern too, but, after a certain point, you are boot-eligible, which means you go out there, your car is not going to move. So, the impact is significant, and, we really are going to take another look at that.”
Section two of a study prepared by SRF Associates for the city in 2014, “Purpose of Red Light Camera Enforcement,” states:
“Red light running is defined as “a vehicle that enters the intersection or passes the stop line after the red light turns on. This may include not fully stopping before turning right on red, passing through the all-red interval immediately following the yellow, and going through a red light while other movements in the intersection are being served.”
However, according to Scott, the council viewed the purpose of the program as too stringent, in terms of issuing tickets for moving violations that were unwarranted.
“We no longer issue tickets for going over the stop line, which is the first line in front of the crosswalk,” she stated. “It is a state law, so the police can’t just do it. What we are trying to put in place is, you don’t automatically get a ticket, if you go across the stop line. The problem is the reason why the line is there. When you’re over that line, the front of your vehicle is in the crosswalk now, given that people don’t necessarily get hit. If the light wasn’t there, they may or may not get hit, but that’s why it’s like that, and we are trying to get some relief.”
Still, Scott said, there are some pretty solid lines on the council.
“There are some members who are saying, ‘the system works; people should not run red lights.’ They are holding this tight line,” she stated. “They are saying, why should we move back from something that helps save lives, because people want to be able to run a red light, and not pay a penalty for it?”
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