Police Chief Daniel Posluszny’s announcement that, statistically, overall crime in Lawrence Township decreased 22 percent last year when compared to 2011 has been overshadowed by the news that accidents increased at the intersection of Route 1 and Franklin Corner Road/Bakers Basin Road where a red light camera traffic enforcement system was installed in late 2011.
A total of 50 crashes – 39 of which were of the rear-end variety – took place at the intersection from December 2011 through November 2012, the first full 12 months the camera system was operational. By comparison, there were only 38 – including 30 rear-end collisions – between November 2010 and October 2011, before the camera system was erected, according to data sent to the state Department of Transportation by the township police department.
“The numbers have gone up on accidents, and it’s concerning,” Posluszny said as he delivered the police department’s 2012 annual report to members of Lawrence Township Council during their meeting last Tuesday (Feb. 19). “We’re still trying to look at it and come up some thought process as to why and some options with it. It [the red light camera system] is there to improve safety, and in the first year accidents have increased. There’s no way around that.”
(The police chief’s report to township council begins at the 1:30 mark of meeting Audio Part 1, available in the Patch media box to the right. His comments concerning the red light camera system begin around the 25:20 mark. A copy of the Lawrence Township Police Department’s 2012 Annual Report is available from both the township website and the Patch media box.)
A total of 8,848 tickets were issued to motorists in 2012 for red light violations documented by the camera system at Route 1 and Franklin Corner Road/Bakers Basin Road, according to the police department’s annual report. The majority of these tickets were issued for improper turns made onto Route 1 from the right lane of Franklin Corner Road (4,673) and the right lane of Bakers Basin Road (1,938).
Right turns during a red light are currently legal at the intersection – as such turns are at many other intersections throughout the state – but a driver is required both to come to a complete stop before making the turn and to also make that stop at or within a car length of the “stop line” painted on the roadway.
Failure to come to a complete stop or making the required stop too far beyond the marked “stop line” will result in the driver receiving a ticket for a red light violation.
Because the Route 1 and Bakers Basin Road/Franklin Corner Road intersection is located in a state-designed “safe corridor” area, fines for red light violations are doubled. Each ticket costs the driver $140, but no “points” are assessed to the driver’s license, according to a “fact sheet” issued by Lawrence Township soon after the red light camera system was installed.
In response to a question posed during last week’s meeting by Councilman Michael Powers, Posluszny said some motorists do not understand what they must do to legally make a “right on red” and, as a result, make turns for which they later receive tickets. Prohibiting all right turns on red at the intersection – as was suggested last year by state Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence Township) – might be “easier” for everyone concerned, the chief conceded.
“To be quite honest, it [the red light camera system] has been a nightmare for the public, and I can see why for a whole host of reasons,” Posluszny said.
Noting that the township’s annual report lists a higher number of crashes at the intersection than the data sent to the state, the chief explained that state’s criteria calls for only accidents that occurred at or in close proximity to the intersection to be reported, whereas the township’s report includes accidents that may have happened 200 feet or more from the intersection.
Lawrence Township is one of 25 municipalities taking part in the state Department of Transportation’s pilot program which, state officials have said, “aims to determine whether red light cameras promote safety by reducing the frequency and severity of crashes at intersections that have a history of motorists running red lights.”
News that accidents increased during the camera system’s first full year at Route 1 and Franklin Corner Road/Bakers Basin Road was not unexpected. In October, Lawrenceville Patch reported that accidents at the intersection had nearly doubled during the first 7½ months that the red light cameras were active.
That report prompted Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican who represents the state’s 13th Legislative District in Monmouth County, to issue a statement denouncing red light camera systems as a way for municipalities and private companies to “siphon” money from the wallets of taxpayers without providing the promised improvements in public safety.
Similarly, Posluszny’s comments last week, as reported by The Times of Trenton, generated a quick response from state Sen. Michael Doherty, a Republican from the 23rd Legislative District in Warren County.
“I commend Chief Posluszny for publicly acknowledging that Lawrence Township has not experienced the safety benefits that his town was promised by red light camera vendors,” Doherty said in a release. “His statements are backed by data from NJDOT which shows that red light cameras lead to more accidents, more injuries and greater cost.”
“Most municipal officials refuse to acknowledge the evidence that the cameras they installed usually result in more accidents and injuries. While it’s easy for mayors and council members to be blinded by the flow of easy money into town budgets, red light camera money truly is blood money,” continued Doherty, who maintains an online petition to ban the use of red light cameras in New Jersey on his website at http://senatenj.com/cameras.
“It’s become increasingly clear that local officials are more interested in ticket revenues than in the unintended consequences associated with red light cameras,” Doherty said. “That’s why I am introducing legislation that will take away the municipal share of red light camera ticket revenues, eliminating the financial incentive for towns to install cameras that make our roads more dangerous.”
Doherty’s legislation, S2593, introduced last week, would direct towns to deposit all fines collected from violations recorded by red light cameras into the state’s Highway Safety Fund, eliminating the municipal share of red light camera ticket revenues. The Highway Safety Fund is used exclusively for highway safety projects and programs, including education, enforcement, capital improvements and such other related measures.