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Red-light cameras backed by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck despite shortcomings

December 10, 2010 |  9:35 am

In a new report on Los Angeles' red-light camera system, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck insists the program is needed to reduce accidents and save lives, despite that it's losing millions of dollars because of unpaid tickets.

Click for interactive explainer on how red light video cameras work Beck is recommending the police commission continue the program despite the shortcomings outlined in a recent audit by City Controller Wendy Gruel, which found the program lost $2.5 million over the last two years.

Police commissioners are due to take up the issue Tuesday and will review a report from Beck that states the 32 red-light camera intersections help reduce overall serious injury and fatal traffic collisions resulting from red-light violations.

Beck argues in the report that his officers rarely issue moving violations for running red lights; such violations account for only 7% of their moving citations. He notes the number of citations for red-light violations has quadrupled from 14,000 to 59,000 annually since the program began in 2007.

Beck argues the cameras serve as a “high visibility public awareness campaign,” putting drivers on notice that L.A. does not tolerate red-light running.

Beck notes in the report that from 2004 to 2009, red-light traffic collisions have declined 63%. There were five red-light fatalities from 2004 to 2006 and none since the program began, Beck said.

Beck also cites research published in May in the Journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers that found that red-light cameras reduce crashes. He noted a top National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official testified before Congress last June that about 1,000 people die annually in red-light traffic collisions.

Beck said the department does not have the resources to conduct its own analysis of the accident data, which was suggested in the September audit that found 45% of red-light tickets were unpaid, and the program bypassed some of the most dangerous intersections in the city.

LAPD officials concede about 56,000 citations worth more than $7 million remain tied up in court.

City officials blamed the State Department of Motor Vehicles for failing to place holds on driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations for unsettled photo enforcement infractions.

But state officials said court officials were not forwarding hold requests to the DMV. Auditors found that about two-thirds of the city's red-light camera tickets are for right-turn violations. Reducing straight-through red-light running, which can cause serious broadside collisions, has been a primary selling point for the cameras.

But a 2008 Times investigation found that some cities, including Los Angeles, get most of their photo enforcement money from citing slower, rolling stop right turns, which many experts say cause fewer and less serious accidents.


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