August 27, 2013 at 1:00 AM
SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Accidents in South Plainfield near red-light cameras installed in Piscataway on the border of the two towns are up 50 percent, according to a study by The Alternative Press of South Plainfield.
The cameras are at the intersection of Stelton Road and Hadley Road and at the intersection of Stelton Road and New Brunswick Avenue. Fines collected from tickets issued motorists nabbed by the cameras go to Piscataway and Middlesex County.
The study compares accident rates for the first six months of 2012 (when there were no cameras) to the first six months of 2013 (when the cameras became operational). It revealed a 50% increase in overall accidents within 100 feet of the two intersections and a near doubling 500 feet out. Rear-end collisions also saw a 50 percent jump.
“We were against the red light cameras from the start,” said South Plainfield Mayor Matt Anesh. “The cameras are supposed to cut the number of accidents, but that’s not what we’re seeing. They should come down.”
Anesh wants the state DOT to require Piscataway and Middlesex County to remove the cameras: “Even though they are in Piscataway, they are affecting South Plainfield. I’ll be asking the council to pass a resolution asking the state to have them removed. They’re creating a danger.”
Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan (D-South Plainfield) agrees. After learning about the increase in accidents found in the study by The Alternative Press, Diegnan said he would do whatever he could to help Anesh and the council.
“In light of (The Alternative Press’s) research, I recommend that the South Plainfield governing body contact the DOT about the safety issue relative to the cameras,” said Diegnan. “I will be happy to assist them in whatever way I can.”
Red light cameras have come under increased scrutiny, with some state lawmakers pushing to ban them altogether.
Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Red Bank) is one of the leading opponents. O’Scanlon recently announced that an expert he hired found that yellow lights at many of the intersections with the cameras stay on for a shorter time than the law mandates. Because of this, he believes that about a third of the tickets issued to motorists are invalid.
The legislature passed the law allowing the cameras in 2008 as a five-year pilot program. Participating towns were allowed to put cameras where engineering, enforcement, and educational efforts were not effective in cutting the number of traffic tickets and crashes.
According to Diegnan, the legislation includes a “sunset provision” and must be reauthorized in December 2014, which is the end of the five-year period. “Based on the results to date I do not support extending the program beyond its termination date,” he said.
As part of the pilot, the state DOT also issues periodic reports on the program. The most recent report was prepared in November 2012 and finds that right-angle crashes are down fifteen percent at intersections where the lights have been in place for one year.
But the same study found that rear-end collisions at intersections with the cameras are up 20 percent, and overall crashes are up 0.9 percent.
Data from intersections where the cameras have been operational for two years shows different results. Total crashes are down 42 percent, with right-angle crashes down 86 percent and rear-end collisions down 57 percent in the two locations where the cameras are installed.
The DOT report does not reach a conclusion about whether the cameras are effective, especially given the limited number of towns that had the cameras in place for more than a year and are included in the report (nine).
Mayor Anesh, however, did reach a conclusion: “These red light cameras are nothing more than a money grab,” he said. “It is quite clear the goal of these programs is government revenue enhancement, not public safety.”
Of the 25 towns that are participating in the pilot, five are from Middlesex County (Piscataway, Edison, Woodbridge, East Brunswick, and New Brunswick). In all, there are cameras at 76 intersections throughout the state. To see a map of the locations click here.