With the state legislature debating possible expansion of red light cameras from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and 18 other Pennsylvania cities, Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG) warns of their ineffectiveness.
PennPIRG's program associate Alana Miller said the private companies who are contracted to operate these cameras have goals to generate revenue rather than promote safety.
"Some municipalities signed into contracts that place financial compensation on the number of tickets issued," Miller said. "That causes a big conflict between wanting to minimize violations so that fewer people are getting violations and breaking the law, but then also wanting to generate the most money through fines."
The State Senate has already passed a bill to expand these cameras to 19 Pennsylvania cities with population of 18,000 or more. Rep. Paul Costa (D-Allegheny County) has introduced similar legislation in the House, with his bill requiring PennDOT approval of all installation sites.
Miller said it's not a surprise to see proposals to privatize traffic law enforcement to generate revenue in the current economic state, adding that as many as 700 cities and towns across the country are already doing it. However, both state bills would require revenue to be returned to the state for safety improvements.
Miller said municipalities run into trouble when they try to cancel private contracts.
"Cities have also found themselves in lawsuits with camera vendors when they try to introduce these programs or decide to end their camera enforcement and that's not right," Miller said. "Our local governments should be able to manage their own traffic and safety decisions without financial penalties from an outside company."
She said that automated systems aren't perfect, explaining that her group has come across cases where traffic cameras issue citations for right hand turns on red, whereas a human police officer would understand that is not a violation.