[OPINION] Red Light Cameras Not About Money? Contributions To Lawmakers Say Otherwise

by Christopher Hackett

Recently, I have seen an increasing number of people begin to buy into the notion that red light cameras are actually making us safer. This frightens me on many levels, the most important of which is how easy corporations can lie with statistics to manipulate us into buying their nonsense.

A $75 ticket is no small sum for the NJ taxpayers, who are already hurting from some of the highest property taxes in the nation. It’s like something out of an Orwellian future. The Government gets to take even more of our money, and smiles at us while doing so, all along saying “Don’t you feel safer now?”

Let me be very clear: red light cameras, in their current form, are not about making roads in New Jersey any safer. Do not let the statistics that they present fool you. As a scientist, I have to deal with individuals who try and distort statistics every day. They will show a reduction in red light violation accidents. What they won’t show you is that rear-end accidents at red lights, and number of severe red light accidents, have both increased since the installation of these cameras. That doesn’t help their case.

Who is “they” anyway, and why are they fighting so hard to keep these cameras installed? Well “they” is actually several companies that manufacture red light cameras, two being American Traffic Systems and Redflex Traffic Systems. And what they get in return for the cameras being installed in a municipality is one of two things: either a cut of the profits per ticket, or a net sum of cash based on the number of citations issued. Either one of these is a huge red flag in my book for one blatant reason: they encourage foul play to inflate citation numbers and amounts to keep the profits rolling in.

If this doesn’t make you nervous, it should. This is only the start of a major push by these companies to privatize our traffic enforcement. But those are just companies being companies. They want profits. That has been a staple of the corporate world since its existence. What is egregious to me are the state legislators who are perpetuating this corporate myth that red light cameras are good for your family. In these cases, I would encourage everyone to follow the money.

Let’s look at Union Township, my hometown, as an example. Assemblyman Joe Cryan is the Democratic Chairman of Union Township, which happens to have an all-Democrat Township Committee that is beholden to him. Union Township alone has four red light cameras, which accounts for 33% of the twelve cameras in Union County. All of the cameras were installed in 2011, about a year after Assemblyman Cryan took a nice contribution from Redflex Traffic Systems. This is all public record. I am just curious why they think we are so dumb that we won’t figure it out. Actually, it’s worse. They just don’t care.

All it would take is a simple legislation to force payments to the red light camera companies be a set amount each year, regardless of citation number or profits, to help reduce incentives for foul play. I support this measure if I cannot see the cameras eliminated. But it won’t happen as long as the incumbents remain, because these companies will always have money to donate.

We cannot accept that our safety on our roads is open to being sold to the highest corporate bidder, particularly if the oversight into the safety measures also happens to be through the same company. To see our Legislators become such active proponents of a private red light camera system is not just alarming, it’s dangerous. It is another indication of what many politicians in New Jersey are willing to do for money. Every single voter in NJ should care about these cameras, if only because it sets a dangerous precedent: if we allow our government to begin privatizing our safety on the roads, imagine how many other ways companies can profit off of us.

Christopher Hackett is a Republican candidate for State Assembly in the 20th Legislative District, which includes Elizabeth, Hillside, Roselle and Union Township.

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