Tonawanda News

January 3, 2014

OUR VIEW: Proceed with caution on red light cameras

By The News Editorial Board
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Motorists in the City of Tonawanda could soon be facing a longer arm or the law — or at least some version of it — when it comes to traffic violations at three intersections known by city police as the most likely spots for serious accidents.

Though we have our reservations about installing automated red light cameras, it’s our instinct to side with police and city leaders who say public safety will benefit and offer our reserved thumbs up to proceed with caution.

Call it a yellow light, if you will.

The cameras will be installed and maintained by a private company, RedFlex Traffic Systems, Inc., which will take more than $4,000 in fines — or the first 80 or so fines the cameras record — as their fee from each camera installed.

Let’s state for the record we’re not thrilled at the idea of the city pulling $50 out of a resident’s pocket and handing it over to a private company but it’s a better alternative than paying to install and maintain the cameras so we’ll live with it.

We also aren’t huge fans of registered owners getting tickets in the mail when there’s no proof they were actually behind the wheel. 

And drivers deserve an answer on what happens when they’re waiting in an intersection to turn left and the lights turns red first. Before you say it, yes we know it’s technically a traffic violation but it’s common driving practice in this area and motorists aren’t likely to change the habit. Will they get a ticket, as well? 

We hope not.

Reservations aside, there is a bottom-line imperative: The cameras have the effect of slowing down motorists at three intersections where high-impact accidents have the very real potential for serious injuries or fatalities. That’s a good thing. 

We’re also glad to report police will have the final authority on dismissing tickets if the cameras malfunction — so residents should feel comfortable noting they aren’t being had by faulty technology. Drivers will be able to review their alleged infraction and if the camera does in fact lie, they can be let off the hook.

A point of caution: We would urge the city to revisit the matter a year into the plan and check the numbers. If the cameras work as officials claim they will there should be a drop in accidents. If that’s the case, they should absolutely remain in place. If accident statistics remain the same — or increase, as some critics suggest will happen — lawmakers need to rethink the plan.

Or at least admit the cynics were right: The whole thing is really just a cash grab.