Much to the chagrin of drivers, communities across the country have adopted red light cameras. But drivers in California may have the most to be upset about.
California serves as a huge market for red light camera contractors. Red light cameras are operated not by the police, but by private companies. The cameras take a picture when a car enters an intersection during a red light. After reviewing the photo, the police then use this photo evidence to issue tickets to drivers. And with fines hitting almost $500, cities and towns that use the cameras to catch citizens who run red lights may be cashing in.
The city council of Menlo Park, California recently decided to extend its contract with RedFlex Traffic Systems for an already-existing four red light cameras and add a fifth red light camera at another intersection. Redlight cameras are now located at the intersections of El Camino Real and Glenwood Avenue, Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road, and El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue. The newest red light camera in Menlo Park is located at Bayfront Expressway and Chilco Street.
While many cities claim that they are not motivated by the money generated by the tickets issued—only safety—emails between the local police department in Menlo Park and RedFlex show that profit is at the top of many minds.
This same controversy is playing out across California and the country: Proponents of red light cameras argue that they increase safety at intersections by deterring drivers from running red lights and forcing them to be more cautious at all intersections—whether or not there is actually a red light at the intersection. Opponents of red light cameras, however, argue that they are all about money and financial gain for the private operators and the city. Opponents contend that there is no evidence that they actually increase safety at intersections. Instead, red light cameras make intersections more dangerous as they scare drivers into slamming on their breaks to avoid a ticket.
Redflex charges a monthly fee for each camera. Thus, it must ticket a certain number of drivers for the city to make a profit. Before the city council voted to add the fifth camera, RedFlex monitored the intersection and saw 114 drives turning right on a red light—but that’s it. It did not see any drivers going straight through the light. Most of us do not consider turning right on a red light dangerous.
Menlo Park is no stranger to controversy. Three years ago a grand jury found that it focused only on citation numbers, not safety. Once again focusing on money, not safety, Menlo Park does not seem to have changed its colors.