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More On Photo Red Light Enforcement

The City of Falls Church recently began using cameras located at red lights to issue citations for motorists violating traffic laws associated with their behaviors around those red lights. These cameras are located on Broad Street, where it crosses Annandale Road and Cherry Street. In an interview with the News-Press, Sgt. Pilar Uelmen of the Falls Church City Police Department spoke on the new system and how it has affected driver behavior.

This is the second article in a two-part series looking at Falls Church City‘s use of cameras to enforce red light violations. The first part appeared in last week’s edition of the News-Press.

The City of Falls Church recently began using cameras located at red lights to issue citations for motorists violating traffic laws associated with their behaviors around those red lights. These cameras are located on Broad Street, where it crosses Annandale Road and Cherry Street. In an interview with the News-Press, Sgt. Pilar Uelmen of the Falls Church City Police Department spoke on the new system and how it has affected driver behavior.

The Warning Period

The red light photo enforcement should come as no surprise to local drivers. The system has been operating since Dec. 19, and during a month-long warning period, drivers who ran the red light were issued a warning instead of a citation. During this time, Uelmen said 758 warnings were issued. The warning period ended and citation began being mailed on Jan. 18.

During the warning period, Uelmen noticed a decline in the number of warnings being issued.

“People are recognizing that enforcement is present and people are recognizing that perhaps they have not been in the past operating their vehicle as well as they thought they were,” Uelmen said. “At Annandale Road in particular, we have a lot of people not stopping at that light. I’ve seen some very alarming near misses. But it’s getting better. I think people are becoming more cognizant of their driving behavior.”

She added that one particular red light infraction still occurs regularly, despite the warnings that were issued, and that is the illegal right-hand turn on red.

“Unfortunately these violations have continued to occur regularly during the first several weeks after the warning period ended,” Uelmen said.

Uelmen said that during the warning period, many of the warnings were issued to drivers making a right-hand turn while the light was red. While this is a legal maneuver, she said the drivers issued warnings were making the turn without first fully stopping at the intersection.

“A right turn on red does not mean turn right on red if it’s safe, it means turn right on red after you’ve come to a complete stop and it’s safe. Slowing down just enough to make the turn is not what the law requires,” Uelmen said.

Big Brother?

While some drivers might feel uncomfortable having their driving recorded, and may find it an invasion of privacy, Uelmen said that the goal of the system is only to monitor the intersection.

“The behavior of the occupants inside the vehicle is not the primary concern, it is the behavior of the vehicle,” Uelmen said. “The state law requires that any images captured have to be used for red light enforcement unless a judge rules otherwise. If there were a crime of so severe in magnitude that a judge would say ‘I need that video as evidence,’ then we would provide it.”

She said a judge might request the video in cases of hit and run accidents, car accidents that result in fatalities, or abductions that might be caught on the camera’s footage, for example, and that the footage could not be used for pursuing petty crimes, such as driving while texting or littering.

“This is not a big brother thing,” Uelmen said.

Accidents?

By using red light photo enforcement, the police department hopes to cut down on accidents where cars traveling perpendicular to one another collide, or T-bone. Some say, however, that cars fearful of running the red light will stop abruptly and cause rear-ending fender-benders in place of T-bones. But Uelmen says this isn’t the case.

“I haven’t seen any evidence of that. I haven’t seen any rear-end collisions at those intersections based on someone stopping at the light. It’s all been near misses with T-bones and with pedestrians with the violating vehicles,” Uelmen said.

“The Virginia State Police did do an analysis of all of the jurisdictions after the first red law entered its sunset phase in 2005 and was expired,” Uelmen said. “They did a study, among other things, to see if the incidents of rear-end collisions were increasing, and their conclusion was that there was still a significant public safety advantage to photo enforcement. We did not have any significant concerns, and there is no indication that that is going to be a concern.”

One recent study shows evidence to support Uelmen’s claim. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a study Feb. 1 that suggests that installing red light cameras can reduce accident fatalities.

The Arlington-based nonprofit organization looked at 99 large cities in the U.S. and approximates that in the 14 largest cities, use of red light cameras prevented 159 fatalities between the years 2004 and 2008.

The study also cites previous research that shows “that red light cameras deter would-be violators and reduce crashes at intersections with signals.”

The study also suggests that using photo enforcement at a few intersections can have an impact on the way drivers obey traffic laws at surrounding intersections.

“Regarding the IIHS study results just published, we were encouraged by the conclusion that automated red light enforcement can help improve driving behavior at every intersection, not just at those with photo enforcement,” Uelmen said. “We hope that our program will produce similar results.”

For More Information

The citation includes a number by which American Traffic Solutions can be contacted. They can answer questions about the system, but for more specific information regarding the citation, the Falls Church City Police Department has set up an e-mail address, [email protected], and a phone number, 703-248-5025, where those interested can make their inquiries. More information is also available on the City’s website, fallschurchva.gov.

See the first part of the story here.