Many areas of the country are experiencing a sudden rise in the number of speed and traffic cameras installed near roads. While some cameras have been a welcome development in curbing dangerous driving, many motorists have complained about what they perceive as an effort by authorities to simply extract revenue without community input on such policies. Growing evidence that many privatized traffic companies use faulty information, including right-hand turns, to assign red light tickets has only added to the anger. As legislators confront the backlash, a self-interested partnership has formed to lobby against accountability methods for these cameras: police unions and for-profit red-light camera companies.

In state after state, police unions and for-profit traffic camera companies have teamed up to defeat laws proposed to ensure that traffic policies are designed for public safety rather than to collect revenue. In Connecticut, police unions and traffic light companies opposed efforts to simply expand the length of yellow lights — despite studies showing that doing so would reduce red light violations by 90 percent — in favor of increased for-profit red light cameras. In Florida last year, American Traffic Solutions, one of the largest for-profit camera corporations, hired 17 lobbyists to defeat a similar bill. The company circulated a letter signed by police chiefs, and worked closely with officials from the Florida Sheriff’s Association, a labor group, to pressure legislators. In California, a bill by State Sen. Joseph Simitian (D-Palo Alto) to ensure that traffic cameras can only be set up to promote public safety rather than collect revenue was opposed by the California Police Chiefs, a law enforcement labor union group.

The media is beginning to take note of the collusion between police unions and for-profit camera companies. In Texas, a high ranking police union official was reportedly paid simultaneously by American Traffic Solutions to lobby against legislation to limit the use of these cameras, according to an investigation by a local ABC News affiliate. Across the country, for-profit traffic light companies have hid behind a front group they set up called the “National Coalition for Safer Roads” to defeat efforts to ensure traffic lights are only set up for public safety reasons. Police union representatives have appeared with the group.

In many states, like Iowa, municipalities enter contracts with private camera operators and share part of the proceeds with local law enforcement. The financial incentives help explain why so many police union representatives have eagerly joined companies like American Traffic Solutions in fighting legislation to promote public safety. Of course, for-profit camera companies have every reason to lobby aggressively as well. A report from Maryland PIRG on wide-ranging abuses from the privatization of traffic cameras notes that Redflex Traffic Solutions, another large for-profit red light camera company, concedes that “aggressive” ticketing, not safety, is their priority:

This focus on profit can be clearly seen in Redflex’s annual report to shareholders, where executives describe how “tighter contract language” and “more aggressive collection efforts in key markets” are important tactics the company will deploy to increase return for its investors in the coming year.

The red light companies have invested heavily in lobbying state legislators. RedFlex, over a five year period, employed over 100 lobbyists in 18 different states; American Traffic Solutions has spent over $1.3 million in lobbying since 2007 and provided over $200,000 in campaign contributions in 2010 alone.

The partnership between police unions and privatized camera companies have led to some odd policy choices. As the Maryland PIRG study notes, for-profit traffic light companies have pushed contracts that limit government discretion in deciding how to enforce traffic violations. The arrangement essentially limits the role of law enforcement in their own communities.

Though police unions have lobbied against bills to promote public safety over collecting revenue, there are divisions within the union. The national Police Chiefs Association has acknowledged that “too many jurisdictions have obtained red light cameras to generate revenue” and recommends that future policies should only promote public safety.

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Filed under: Lobbying

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  • Shelly Bernal

    I’m so glad to see your coverage of this seemingly menial topic. As a driver in Florida I can attest to the rampant installation of these cameras. I have witnessed an accident and near misses as drivers slam on their brakes attempting to avoid a penalty and those following not being able to stop in time. A longer yellow light could assist with this safety issue. But more often, and with scary frequency, I observe road rage in the right turn lanes. These are dedicated lanes to turn right, but when the lights are red these cameras issue citations if proper procedures are not followed. The anger stems from those behind a car afraid of turning right on a red light. Unfortunately, sometimes the honking escalates to dangerous behavior. I’m not convinced that this right turn camera ticketing increases public safety.

    • Lee Fang

      Thanks Shelly!

    • the dissenter

      A longer yellow light…LOL! Do you know that the yellow light on intersection fitted with these demonic gadgets are shortened on purpose in order to increase revenues? The only end I can see to this is for the insurance companies to come to the realization that it’s costing them money due to the accidents and they fight back. You know, shark eats shark.

  • Pingback: Police Unions And For-Profit Traffic Light Companies Lobby To Set Up Red Light Cameras For Revenue | OzHouse Alt News()

  • the dissenter

    LOL! Let ’em. The red light camera scam has failed everywhere. In GA, for example, they lost so much money that they had to disable them after they spent millions in tax dollars putting them up. They can’t even collect the fines which, of course, are then outsourced to collection companies that end up taking half (if they can collect anything at all) and tacking three or four times to the initial cost. The “monitoring” of these cameras is, of course, outsourced to another company. For example, in the case of GA again, the company is located in AZ. They, again, charge more from this than they collect from tickets. As far as doing anything to increase safety…another joke. They INCREASE not increase accidents, particularly, rear-end collisions. But who cares, right?

    And since we’re on the topic of privatization and I’ve mentioned the fine, fine asstate of GA twice, I may as well mention that our former plantation owners are making a pitch for privatizing legal services. The focus is on the public defender now. Next will be the DA. And then the judges themselves. I can’t wait to see that one.

  • Avaritia

    Police unions. Now, there’s one union I’d love to see annihilated. And I say this as a strong supporter of labor unions even if they never worked for me as I realize their historic importance in the struggle for workers’ rights. Abolish the thugs union and lend them fend for themselves and let their masters provide for their loyal lapdogs.

  • CatKinNY

    Well, when you slash state income taxes to keep your wealthy citizens in state, the money has to come from somewhere.

  • NoBodyScanners

    They need to fund the Fascist Police State somehow.

  • jcwconsult

    Ticket cameras are ALWAYS about revenue, NEVER about safety. They are only profitable when the yellow intervals are deliberately set too short for maximum safety and when the speed limits are posted too low for maximum safety. See the science on our website. James c. Walker, National Motorists Association, Ann Arbor, MI

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