Red in black: Rio-Seminole cams generate cash, controversy

news-redlight-coverNearly 1,000 drivers triggered the red light cameras at 29 and Rio in the first 26 days.

While Albemarle County officials have insisted that the new red light cameras are safety tools, not money generators, the first 26 days of active enforcement seem to show a tidy profit.

Between December 12 and January 7, according to figures just released, 412 tickets were mailed to offenders. At $50 a ticket, that represents potential revenue of $20,600.

In a release, County Police Captain John Parrent said he was pleased by "what appears to be a positive impact" on the intersection of Rio Road and Seminole Trail; and that, he said, "translated into improved traffic safety."

However, the County offered no data on the number of intersection accidents, if any, since the cameras went live, how any new accident rate might compare to a pre-camera time period, or any data on how many tickets were for "rolling stops," a relatively benign infraction.

Under the County's agreement with Australia-based camera vendor Redflex, the company gets to keep the first $10,000 of monthly ticket revenue while the County keeps any overage for its general fund, an arrangement that's received fire from the Rutherford Institute. In a report, the civil rights organization slams such systems as “revenue-raising devices” that create an improper financial incentive.

Specifically, the Institute contends that the arrangement violates a Virginia law prohibiting municipalities from making corporate deals in which compensation rises with the penalties. During a County budget meeting in April 2009, County Supervisor Dennis Rooker appeared to confirm such suspicions when he lauded the system not only for safety but also as a "revenue enhancer."

Indeed, while Redflex's profit is limited to $10,000 a month, the County can make as much as they want after they meet the 200 monthly ticket threshold needed to meet that $10,000 limit, an incentive that appears to benefit Redflex as well.  However, Annie Kim, a senior assistant attorney with the County, told the Daily Progress recently that the contract with RedFlex “fully complies with state code.”

That's a claim Rutherford Institute president John Whitehead says he's eager to challenge. "If we get a good client," he says.

County data indicate that the system itself also has some problems. It seems that 998 drivers triggered a camera, which is activated when a vehicle enters the intersection at least a half-second after a light has turned red, but more than half of the 998 potential tickets were tossed. Issues include glare, blur, obstructions, and incomplete information at the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Therefore, it appears that drivers cruising through a red light at the intersection of Rio and 29, despite the presence of the cameras, have a greater than 50 percent chance of not getting ticketed. County spokesperson Lee Catlin cites the 586 toss-outs as evidence that "clear and compelling" standards of proof outweigh any alleged desire to generate revenue.

cover-redlight-fullstop"It makes sense from a safety standpoint," said County Supe Dennis Rooker of installing the camera system at Rio and 29 North during a 2009 budget meeting, "and it should be a revenue enhancer for law enforcement."

Still, the Rutherford Institute has decried the "Big Brother" aspects and questioned the effectiveness of the cameras, pointing to studies suggesting they don't prevent red light-running and that they can actually increase the frequency of accidents.

In response, the County released a December 16 letter from a top research executive for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The executive, Joseph Nolan, accuses Whitehead of relying on "flawed research."

Accident rates at intersections with cameras is a touchy subject for the pro-camera crowd, as most of the data seem to indicate that overall accidents tend to increase, a conclusion that Nolan attempted to discredit.

"The researchers failed to incorporate comparison sites," wrote Nolan, referring to other intersections where red light cameras are located. "The result is that the expected number of crashes at intersections where cameras were installed could not be properly estimated, so the effects of the enforcement on crashes could not be determined."

Whitehead shot back with his own letter, calling the County's decision not to respond directly to his Institute's report a "sad reflection on the Board of Supervisors." He described Nolan's letter as "little more than a rehashing of various justifications for the program that have been trotted out in the past."

"It's not true that we failed to use comparison sites," says John Miller. A research scientist with the Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research, part of VDOT, Miller co-wrote the  2007 study on the effectiveness of red light cameras in Virginia. Miller even directed a reporter to the study's Appendix A, which shows how comparison sites were used.

"That report also details how we obtained data and conducted the analysis," says Miller. "Subsequent experimentation with site selection did not show an increase in camera effectiveness."

According the Center for Transportation, the effectiveness of the red-light camera systems lies somewhere between the assertions of organizations like the Insurance-company backed Insurance Institute, which has enthusiastically endorsed these systems for decades, and Libertarian-leaning groups like the Rutherford Institute, which have demonized them for just as long.

As Miller points out, other studies on the effectiveness of red-light camera systems on preventing crashes all tend to agree that dangerous side-angle and t-bone crashes generally decrease, that less-deadly rear-end crashes generally increase, and that overall crashes increase (because rear-end crashes happen more frequently). In addition, the findings are often turned on their head by specific intersections that see a general increase in all types of crashes regardless of the cameras.

Basically, the study concluded that red-light cameras are "associated with some benefits," but shouldn't be "implemented on a widespread basis" without first studying the particular intersection.

"Every intersection is different," says Miller.

Indeed, The Tampa Tribune reports that at $125 a ticket, over $1 million in revenue has been generated in a year with cameras at four intersections in Hillsborough County, Florida. Four of the intersections saw fewer injurious crashes compared to the previous year, but two of the intersections saw more of them.

"It's not increasing any problems, but right now it's too early to say this is a cure for anything," said sheriff's corporal Troy Morgan.


I can fix this problem in three words:

Build the Bypass.

i still don't really understand why cameras have to be approved based on safety data collected....if the cameras are photographing people and cars in violation of three basic traffic laws....that's pretty fair and clear evidence that there is a lack of respect for the law. the cameras are trying to enforce the law..

Somebody needs to suggest speed cameras to Albemarle. They could really rape the citizens with these.

The best way to reduce accidents at ANY intersection is to educate everybody on looking both ways to make sure traffic has stopped before entering an intersection when they get a green light.

While it seems as if this should be common sense anyway, it's not. People slam on the accelerator as soon as they see green! And nobody is teaching drivers any better.

If Albemarle County wanted to make this intersection safer, they should have educated the public. If they wanted to generate revenue, install red light cameras! You figure it out! :)

(Parents........... please please please teach your children to look both ways BEFORE pulling away when they get their green light! This knowledge could have prevented the fatal accident on Route 29 not long ago!)

I agree with Miller's statement that you need to study every intersection that you look at putting cameras into. They are not the perfect solution for every intersection but they can make a big difference and should be looked at as a possible solution.

re: "Again, it is all about the money- revenue, revenue, revenue”Š..rather than safety, safety, safety”Š”Š.."

For us commuters, it's all about: Traffic is movin' ! Traffic is movin' ! Traffic is movin' !
Love the cams.

re: "People would not feel like they needed to run the red lights at that intersection if the timing would be corrected"

The timing is fine. You're just impatient. There's a lot of traffic to be moved up & down 29. Lengthening the green for the side roads slows everything else down.

re: "Am I the only one to withdraw my patronage?"

Yes. Well, maybe a few other surly old coots.

Are you listening Coy ??? :-)

Makes it hard to tell how much good the cameras are doing as drivers learn to avoid them.

"People would not feel like they needed to run the red lights at that intersection if the timing would be corrected. You literally have to wait like 10 min. before the light changes & then like 5 cars can go through before it turns red again."
Uh, no.

"So, just to confirm, no data that shows the intersection is safer than before the cameras were installed. Did they acquire safety data before the implementation, and can we see how this intersection compares with accidents or violations at comparable intersections?"
The police and County should both have crash statistics for at least the past 3 years, most likely organized by intersection. However, 26 days of having red-light cameras is a very small - and weak - sample size to produce any defensible statistics. Injury/fatal car crashes don't happen too frequently, thankfully. Suppose there weren't any in those 26 days. You wouldn't take that statistic to mean "red light cameras ELIMINATED all injury or fatal crashes"...unfortunately, several months or a year's worth of before-and-after crash statistics will be much more reliable.

@Shempdaddy, the purpose of London's congestion charging is not so that the government can creep on citizens. It is to reduce automobile usage, congestion, and greenhouse gas emissions, which it has been successful at thus far.

just the article will make these systems more affective. Its all about awareness and enforcement.

The only reason it makes money is because people are out there breaking the law. We need to get on board in cutting down on the number of traffic violations as well as accidents. I think the cameras are a great start.

No surprise that the cameras are stirring up controversy, no one likes getting caught or ticketed. As long as the cameras are doing their job by catching red light runners to help make our streets safer, I don't care if the county is making a profit.

We should point out that while there were no accidents reported at the location mentioned above, a study of the location last year observed more red-light violation at the location. Which can also be seen as a sign of danger.

ââ?¬Å?If every angle crash is evidence of the danger of red-light running,” says County transportation engineer Jack Kelsey, ââ?¬Å?then every red-light violation is a potential crash and also evidence of the danger.”

As Kelsey points out, during a 12-hour video surveillance of the intersection last year, red-light running violations were observed most often at Rio Road Eastbound and 29 Southbound. And while there were no angle crashes at Rio Eastbound, there were 11 at 29 Southbound.

ââ?¬Å?As the volumes and rates of violations get larger and larger,” says Kelsey, ââ?¬Å?it’s just a matter of time before the crash tally catches up. So based on the data we have selected the two most hazardous approaches.”

Micha J- until you get one, you won't get it..........

It is not even a point violation! If it were about the safety and the violation (a serious one at that) then there would be points assessed.

Is speeding or running a red light more serious? I thought so........

Richard Diamond of the Washington Times has been researching and reporting on the use of red light cameras for more than a decade. His latest observations are here:

One takeaway: One of the new Redflex cameras is pointed at an approach to the intersection that has had no red-light-running accidents in the past three years None. Zero. How can they ever hope to argue that the cameras make that approach safer when there are no accidents? Think about it.

The cameras are pointed in that direction because of the volume of cars ($$$). Keep in mind the vast majority of people who get citations are turning right on red or got caught in the dilemma of the yellow light (decided they couldn't stop in time so went through the yellow). While the camera can easily see half a second, the human mind cannot. ($$$) And remember, with the all-red delay (no one has a green), someone going through half-a-second late is still not dangerous in the least because all cars have a red light for at least a few more seconds.

This is about creating a new revenue stream for a government in a recession. Unless this becomes an election issue, we will only see more (Australian) cameras taking photos and videos throughout this community. Instead of fixing a broken intersection and timing the lights correctly, the BOS and a company in Australia are making money off of it. Some things are just wrong. This is one of them.

Hum....these cams are not catching the real red light runners. They are catching the ones who are just barely in the intersection-usually prior to any cross traffic starting to move. Do the cameras catch someone jumping a green light? Getting out of the gate while the their light is still red?

I think defensive driving requires that you look both ways prior to moving into an intersection, but you rarely see anyone looking both ways to see if cars have even cleared an intersection. Of course it is very difficult to do that when you are texting or on the phone.

It's only a matter of time when someone markets windshield film that blocks red light cameras from seeing who is inside the vehicle- a matter of time.

How many of the tickets were challenged or not paid?

Again, it is all about the money- revenue, revenue, revenue.....rather than safety, safety, safety........

I actually think it reads the tag # doesn't it? I'm not sure but I too believe it's all about the $ and less work 4 the cops to do. Its hard not to roll on a red light when turning right, I mean your allowed to go if no one's coming. I think it's pretty dumb.

People would not feel like they needed to run the red lights at that intersection if the timing would be corrected. You literally have to wait like 10 min. before the light changes & then like 5 cars can go through before it turns red again. The cameras are only to make money & everyone knows it.

The BOS just wants to do it for the money they don't care what we think and the police like it because it frees up personnel. What needs to be done is let you BOS member know if it is not removed they will be. Mine is running for reelection now is the time to elect someone who listens to what we want.


I'm surprised that the merchants along Route 29 haven't objected.
In a comment I made addressing the issue in a previous article on this topic, I stated that I would not be shopping at any business that required I use that intersection. I've made good on that promise.
Am I the only one to withdraw my patronage?
The BOS will pay much more attention to business owners than to average citizens.

Does it matter if it makes more money for the county? I would think anyone opposed to the cameras may be afraid of getting caught breaking the law. And people have to have something to complain about anyway. If it was a member of your family or a friend that gets "T-Boned" in that intersection and gets hurts, the people that complain now would be the 1st to say " why doesn't the county do something to prevent this" They are tring and tring with limited resources too. I would rather have a cop available to come to my rescue if I need help rather than have hime stuck with a traffic offender!

Red light means stop. What part of that statement don't you understand?

"...the company gets to keep the first $10,000 of monthly ticket revenue."

From a business persons perspective, I could hire a cop, feed him plenty of donuts, buy him a car, and still have money left over for $10,000 a month. Why not just go to Radio Shack, get a motion detector, a video camera, some duct tape and make your own? This is like the $35,000 toilet seats the military buys. Even Bubba with a motion detector deer camera could do this for less. For $10,000/month you could run a DSL line out to the intersection and have a real time video camera the cops could watch in the comfort of their own donut kitchen. Why is it that public officials always make the worst decisions? Honestly, the technology to do this is on sale at Walmart!

I hope everyone is going to court to dispute these tickets rather than just rolling over like sheeple and paying the bill.

It's the wrong place to put those cameras because the intersection does not come together to form 90 degree angles. When you come from town on Rio towards the intersection those people cannot see down the road because of the bizarre angle of the road. So they have to edge out to be safe. The timing of the lights is very bad and suspect too. It's a big money grab.

I have decided that a camera taking my picture at an intersection is much less invasive than a TSA person feeling me up and down with the same dirty gloves he has just felt hundreds of other people with.

I still say the "tidy profit" isn't there.... yet. If you consider Ernie Allne is appointed to this red light program, and his salary is probably at least $55,000 to $60,000 a year now (quite a bit more if you add in the benefits package), it will take 5 or 6 months just to pay him. How many assistants does he have, and how much do they make annually? All the salaries are public information, somebody should take the time to research it all at the end of the year to determine if a profit really was made. The $10,600 made in the last month does not impress me.

Get used to it--cameras will start creeping in everywhere. In London, you cannot drive your vehicle at certain times in the city without a permit(congestion charging.) You can buy a day permit online, and enter your tag number. At every single entrance to the city, there are cameras that are constantly reading tags--those that do not show up as having purchased a day permit(or having a long term permit) are mailed a ticket. Tens of thousands of cars a day are scanned. In essence, this is traffic enforcement on a grand scale that requires very little police time--but your car's location and status is continually logged.

The congestion charge generates over 250 million pounds a year--so you can bet that U.S. cities are trying to figure out a politically safe way to implement such a high revenue/low enforcement cost solution--which would dramatically increase vehicular surveillance if implemented in the U.S.

So, just to confirm, no data that shows the intersection is safer than before the cameras were installed. Did they acquire safety data before the implementation, and can we see how this intersection compares with accidents or violations at comparable intersections? Transparency breeds acceptance.

Do any of you remember reading an article about state police using a camera to read license plates. The camera can report any unpaid tickets, registration in a split second. The officer just drives the patrol car. Big cities have been using them for some time with parking scoff laws.
It is all done to generate capital. The government could really care less if it makes an intersection safer.

So stop at the intersection

Then the company will go under

Travel light: That is the best scenario I have heard yet.

You can cherry-pick data from studies regarding camera enforcement but you cannot avoid the comments from numerous police officials across the country that have been quoted as saying that in their municipalities, the use of camera enforcement has decreased collisions, particularly those that cause injury. For example, in Columbus, Ohio right-angle collisions declined by 80% at intersections with camera enforcement. In Lafayette, Louisiana, intersection collisions declined by 40&. In Kansas City, MO per a study by the Kansas City Star newspaper, collisions declined by 26% and injury-causing collisions declined by 42% - and rear-end collisions declined by 20% at intersections with camera enforcement.

I like to trail very close to a runner of a reddish light @ Rio. Once he's made the decision to go, I just piggy back on through. His (or her) ticket not mine. oohahahahahahahah!

The only reason that there is a ton of money coming in is because there are a TON of people running red lights. The two obviously go hand in hand and once people grasp that you can't run a light without paying the price, this will undoubtedly go down. change the way you drive to avoid forking over any dough. Simple.

No Steven T. that is not the only reason there's a ton of camera money. Other valid reasons are drivers cannot legally stop fast enough at a traffic signal is the intersection is not properly engineered for the traffic flow. Signals may be harder to see from a distance (site distance) especially in inclement weather, signals may not be the newer improved LED version, no backplates installed to reduce ambient glare and the yellow time may not properly timed. Some cities have been caught short timing their yellow signals for increased revenue, see Don't forget, the camera vendors are FOR-PROFIT companies. Camera companies cannot make money at a properly engineered intersection. There are over 25 peer-reviewed independent traffic studies showing little or negative camera benefits except to the camera company’s profits.

Rockersville- it is all about the revenue, that is how the Austrailian company who installs the systems sells the systems. Until you get the assessment in the mail, you have no idea that you "ran" a red light. What is running a red light anyway? Stopping 2 inches over the line? YES! Blowing through a red light? YES! Well, which is it?

Let's see the facts, ma'am, just the facts..............

Northern VA officially begins in Charlottesville now

They've been doing this in California for awhile now. Since the state budget problems they've bumped up the fines to $400-500. Big cash cow which is what it's all about, "Cui Bono".


"The only reason it makes money is because people are out there breaking the law."

Not necessarily. I get annoyed at obvious red light runners. I can see 2 - 3 cars just drive right on through even though the light is clearly red. Of course, as the lights won't let 3 cars into the intersection ebfore turning yellow, I can't entirely say I blame them,. goes on all over the area.

However, there are plenty of reasons you cannot see the light. For example, sit behind a big box truck or an 18 wheeler. Good luck on anyone getting through but the one big truck. Many more mentioned above.

What the Coun ty and the City don't get is that it's about traffic flow, not traffic stop. They always seem to time lights to stop people. You drive a block and you hit a light turning red. You do it block after block. It's ridiculous.