State DOT Halts Red Light Camera Program

By David Cruz

Red light traffic cameras, part of a pilot program set up by the state, have been a sweet source of income for cities like Jersey City and Newark, where they’ve brought in millions of dollars to local budgets. But the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) put a stop to all that starting today.

The cameras are supposed to be calibrated to the yellow lights, and the timing of those yellow lights is supposed to be determined by a speed survey done by the municipality. DOT officials say they can’t certify that all the municipalities in this program completed those surveys and that’s why they say they have to shut these cameras down.

Newark’s Traffic and Signals Manager Jack Nata says the city has 19 cameras set up. None of them are issuing tickets today.

“All we did was go out over the last week, redo all those speed studies; those speed studies confirm that our signal times are correct,” he said. “We actually submitted those revised amber certifications, pursuant to the legislation with the language they wanted today to the DOT, so we’re just hoping within the next several days we get the green light from them and we can start sending out tickets again.”

Drivers who set off the red light camera at the intersection of Kennedy Boulevard and Communipaw Avenue in Jersey City might yet get a ticket. The cameras are still running; they’re just not sending out tickets right now. Throughout the state, 63 of the 85 red-light cameras have been taken off-line until at least Aug. 1. That’s made some lawmakers happy but Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy says the state should worry more about protecting pedestrians and less about inconveniencing motorists.

“They’re defending and coming to the defense loudly for folks who are running [red lights],” he said. “If you run a red light — you shouldn’t run a red light — but if you do, and you get caught on camera, then you have to pay [an] $85 [ticket], and I don’t see a problem with that.”

The red light pilot program is in its fourth year. State officials will determine next year whether to extend it. It’s supposed to improve safety in high traffic and dangerous intersections. Local officials say it’s working. Nata says proof of that is that the number of summonses is down, although the number of cameras in Newark is up, which means Newark is still making millions. Advocates for motorists, like Steve Carellas, the New Jersey representative of the National Motorists Association, told us late last year what he thought the bottom line was.

“It’s being sold as a safety improvement but we’ve learned over the many years that the cameras have been in operation across the country that it’s about the money,” he said.

There are moves underway in the legislature to get rid of the cameras completely and motorists, as you might expect, don’t like them much, either. Carellas recommends that, if you get a ticket from one of these cameras, you should take a copy of the DOT order with you, and fight it in court.