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Put the brakes on red-light cameras

It's questionable whether the devices reduce accidents, and they certainly don't earn the city money.

September 30, 2010

Los Angeles has been installing red-light cameras since 2000 and now has them at 32 intersections. There might be some grumbling from libertarians fretful about electronic spying, but most Angelenos seem to accept the devices as a new fact of life — after all, they improve traffic safety, right?

Maybe not. An audit released Wednesday by City Controller Wendy Greuel turned up little evidence that cameras influence driver behavior. Accidents fell at 16 intersections in the six months after cameras were installed, but rose at 12 and stayed the same at four. That makes it pretty hard to make definitive conclusions either way. OK, but at least the cameras are generating revenue for the city, aren't they?

Actually, no. Greuel's audit showed that the cameras not only didn't bring in a dime for the city in 2008 and 2009, but cost it a combined $2.5 million in those years. That's pretty surprising given that red-light violators busted by the cameras have to pay a $446 citation, but only a third of that goes to the city, with the rest going to the state and county. The city, meanwhile, has to pay the contractor for the red-light system, the salaries of police and transportation officials who monitor the program, and a Superior Court fee to benefit court reporters. Meanwhile, it appears that the locations of some of the cameras were chosen based more on political and cost concerns than on safety.

City officials are considering plans to double the number of cameras, to 64. Greuel's audit shows they need to apply the brakes until some important issues are addressed and questions answered.

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