Could red-light cameras return to New Jersey?
New Jersey drivers fought a long difficult battle to get rid of red-light cameras in 2014 after a five-year pilot program yielded hundreds of thousands of violations and created a new revenue stream for dozens of municipalities.
The fight was led by then State Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon who uncovered multiple problems with the system's accuracy.
Tucked away in the 1,039-page, $1 trillion dollar infrastructure bill President Joe Biden signed into law last week is millions in subsidies to companies that operate red-light and speed cameras in the U.S.
American Traffic Solutions (ATS), which operated red-light cameras in New Jersey, is among the companies that stand to receive money from the Biden infrastructure law. Now known as Verra Mobility, the company spent over $2.8 billion lobbying for the subsidies, according to federal lobbying disclosures.
The Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act includes $13 billion in funding for roadway safety projects.
Pedestrian deaths have been steadily rising in New Jersey and the nation over the last few years, and much of that money will go toward improving safety at intersections.
New Jersey had the eighth highest pedestrian fatality rate in the nation, experiencing an increase in 2020 despite a sharp drop in traffic due to the pandemic.
Projects could include better lighting, new crosswalks and pedestrian overpasses or underpasses to make crossing safer. It may also include incentives for installing more red-light and speed cameras in more communities.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is expected to publish the nation's first-ever National Roadway Safety Strategy. He has, so far, been silent on the use of red-light cameras as a traffic safety device.
Data supporting their use as a safety device has been suspect. The insurance industry has been one of the biggest proponents, and has spent tens of millions lobbying Congress to support them.
If Buttigieg includes incentives for states and local governments to install cameras, there may not be much support in New Jersey's legislature to bring them back.
State Senator Mike Doherty (R-23), along with O'Scanlon, led the efforts to end the red-light camera pilot program. Doherty says he would again oppose their use "because of the abuses that occurred. He also noted getting rid of the cameras had bipartisan support.
"Here's one time a government program got started," Doherty noted. "That there was bi-partisan support to end it."
Efforts to permanently ban traffic cameras have stalled in recent years. Legislation, however, would be needed for them to return. The New Jersey Department of Transportation notes: "Municipalities no longer have the statutory authority to capture violations through automated enforcement. Without action from the Legislature, New Jersey's Red Light Running (RLR) Automated Enforcement Pilot Program has ended."