Red-light cameras get the green light in Alexandria

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Officials hope red-light cameras at three of the citys busiest intersections and new fines will dissuade lead-footed, impatient or distracted motorists from breaking the law.

Local authorities began notifying drivers caught rolling through red lights at the intersections of South Patrick and Franklin, South Patrick and Gibbon and Duke and South Walker streets of their violations on July 1. If they or anyone else are caught running a light after July 30 they can expect a $50 fine in the mail, officials said. 

Its not about making money for the police department, said Deputy Chief Eddie Reyes, but preventing accidents.

A lot of people anticipate these cameras as revenue generators, but there’s not a single [department program] that depends on revenue from the cameras, Reyes said. Nothing would make us happier than if there were no violations. We’re hoping that if we put cameras at these intersections that the red light violations will significantly decrease.

Its not a new tactic to discourage drivers from racing red lights. The General Assembly allowed the use of red light cameras until 2005 and Alexandria was among the municipalities that employed the devices, according to Reyes. 

When Richmond failed to renew the program, the cameras went on hiatus, he said. The law changed again in 2007 when the state gave localities the green light to install cameras and fine offenders once more.   

Reyes sees it as a cheap, easy method to discourage traffic violations. The cameras came from Redflex Traffic Systems in exchange for a cut of the fines. Department staffers vet photographs and videos of the offending vehicles, their license plates and in some case the drivers, before meting out the penalties.

Red-light runners were responsible for nearly 5,000 crashes, 3,600 injuries and at least 26 fatalities in Virginia in 2004, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The alternative is posting officers at each of the intersections and physically handing out citations, which costs taxpayer dollars and likely would bump up the offending motorists insurance, Reyes said. 

Alexandria is not the first to return to the program. Red light cameras in Fairfax City began keeping eyes on motorists at two busy intersections on July 1 as well. Neighboring Arlington County has had them in use for a little more than a year, said Det. Crystal Nosal. Four intersections within the county have been outfitted with the devices since June 2010. 

And rather than raising privacy hackles, drivers actually support the use of red light cameras, according to a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Arlington-based nonprofit talked with motorists in 14 cities, including Baltimore and Washington, and found roughly two-thirds of them favored the cameras. 

Support for the cameras in Washington was the highest, with about 78 percent approving of their use. Overall, slightly more than a quarter of those questioned said they opposed cameras, according to IIHS. 

A study released by the nonprofit earlier this year also indicates the cameras save lives by preventing traffic fatalities. IIHS compared cities of more than 200,000 residents with and without the devices and found municipalities that deployed the cameras saw a more significant decline in fatalities associated with running red lights. 

Reyes hopes Alexandria will see a similar decline at the three intersections.

We’re hoping through this 30 day awareness campaign and that this tremendous amount of attention being given to this project will cause drivers to think twice about running a red light, he said.

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