San Rafael Red-Light Cameras a Safety Success

City may consider new installations.

San Rafael's red-light camera program has been a success when measured by a sharp increase in the number of citations issued and a decline in the number of accidents since cameras and video recorders were installed in October.

The city is considering installations at two or three other locations in addition to cameras at busy downtown interchanges, including Third and A streets, Second and Hetherton streets and Lincoln and Mission avenues but has not made any solid plans.

"We are doing traffic counts at two or three other locations," said Ken Nordhoff, city manager. "We are studying it but we don't have plans to install them yet."

City officials say the system is all about the safety of all kinds of traffic, whether it's vehicular, pedestrian or bicycle. They say that by reducing the incidents of red-light violations, they are making the community safer. 

The city pays a monthly fee of $5,900 per intersection to Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., which installed two still cameras and a video camera at each of the three locations. Redflex administers the processing of the recordings. Drivers are alerted to the presence of the signs by prominent signs.

Red-light camera programs have faced opposition among some because of the high cost of the citations and because they are run by private businesses.

In Orange County, the city of Fullerton removed red-light cameras after a judge ruled that its camera contract gave a private company an incentive to increase tickets. 

The San Rafael camera program is considered cost neutral to the city.

The cost of the tickets in San Rafael is $445 for those who do not choose traffic school to have the violation removed from their record. For those who opt to have it removed through traffic school, the cost is $494.

Between October 2009 and April 2010, vehicle code fines in all categories doubled at $46,462 from $23,231

And some critics insist that despite claims of cost neutrality the cameras are money makers for cities.

"It's a huge revenue factory for any municipality," said San Rafael attorney John Stanko.

He recommends that anyone who gets a ticket for red-light running should fight it along with any other citation that doesn't offer the driving school option.

Drivers may be at an advantage in many cases because the officers who issue the tickets have not seen the moving violation first hand and their testimony could be ruled as hearsay in court, Stanko said, noting that some municipalities have removed the cameras.

But San Rafael police Lt. Glen McElderry said officers have not had problems in Marin Superior Court because they bring still photos and videos that show drivers who activate sensors when they drive too fast to stop at a light. 

He said the criteria for installing cameras is based on the number of collisions that occur in an intersection, the traffic volume and the number of red light violations.

"Safety has always been the backbone of this program," McElderry said. If we stay focused on safety and carefully consider where we put these cameras, we won't have the problems that other cities have had."








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