Petrillo & Goldberg Law Blog

Newly shuttered New Jersey traffic cameras sent mixed signals on success

New Jersey’s red light camera program ended on December 16, 2014. Motorists across the Garden State, many of whom have resented the possibility of receiving a camera-produced traffic citation, cheered the program’s end. And some municipalities that enjoyed the increased revenue it bought in expressed sadness about its demise. The program’s opposing and supporting camps have been fairly well-defined throughout its run, but its success has been far less clear-cut.

The traffic control signal monitoring system, also known as the red light running system, was inaugurated in New Jersey on December 16, 2009. During its five-year run, the pilot program’s cameras were installed at 83 intersections in 25 municipalities across the state. The state authorized the program in order to determine its effectiveness in reducing traffic accidents as well as the number of traffic citations issued.

The program has been plagued by a number of problems, including a federal lawsuit that resulted in refunds to hundreds of thousands of motorists whose intersection photo-ops came with a traffic citation. In 2012, Trenton had to temporarily suspend dozens of cameras due to concerns that yellow lights were not affording motorists sufficient time to brake safely. And this year, a computer glitch voided 15,000 tickets.

A New Jersey Department of Transportation report shows that the program has had mixed overall success. According to the NJDOT study, all 83 locations reported the following figures from the first full year without the cameras to the first full year with them: crashes overall were up 0.09 percent; right-angle collisions went down 15 percent, but same-direction (rear-end) crashes went up by 20 percent. And crash severity cost — which includes vehicle damage, property damage, emergency response and medical care — increased by an estimated $1,172,800.

The number of citations issued declined by 50 percent during the cameras’ first full year of operation. However, some camera locations generated thousands of citations, including one at an intersection on Route 70 in Cherry Hill that produced more than 20,000 during one 12-month period.

The program has been highly unpopular among many drivers in New Jersey. Residents were unhappy that the government was employing under-the-radar means for stinging them with citations that cost up to $140 — and using the revenue to enrich municipal coffers. In addition, many drivers complained that instead of helping reduce accidents, the cameras were actually inducing them to slam on their brakes or speed up at intersections, both of which could actually increase the chances of a collision occurring.

Any municipalities that may feel a revenue pinch from the termination of the red light camera program should not count on a revival of its cash windfall, as Governor Chris Christie indicated over the summer that he would not be inclined to support the program’s renewal.