Report: Auto-Enforced Camera Programs Need Positive PR

A recently released report lays out the best ways that automated red-light enforcement programs can be set up and get public backing, as traffic safety and insurance industry officials search for ways to support the programs, which have been much-maligned in the motoring community.

The report, released in late October, was sponsored by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) and emphasizes that better PR and transparency are necessary to inform consumers of the safety benefits of red-light cameras and to calm their worries that the cameras are only there to give more funds to the government or outside, for-profit companies that administer the cameras.

The report was noted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in its November newsletter.

There are automatic enforcement programs in communities across 24 states, according to the IIHS.

Guidelines Include Police Administration, Public Campaigns

The report issued a number of recommendations based on traits shared by the most effective automatic enforcement programs across the U.S.

Some of the recommendations were related to how programs are administered; the best programs are administered by police agencies, according to the report.

But a bulk of the recommendations pertained to how the public perceives such programs. Automatic enforcement programs face several hurdles, one of the most major being “obtaining and maintaining public support,” according to the report.

Public outcry over automatic enforcement programs was so fierce in Los Angeles that even members of the City Council there told residents in 2011 that they did not have to pay tickets. In March, the L.A. Police Commission voted unanimously to stop pursuing collection of unpaid tickets.

Citations should fund the program itself, according to the NCHRP report, specifically the costs of the camera and its operation. Surplus of ticket-related monies should only go to other traffic safety programs—and the public should know that.

“This should be communicated to the public so automated enforcement is not seen as a tax feeding the general coffers,” the report stated.

Also, a monthlong grace period in which warnings are issued in lieu of citations should be instituted immediately after a camera begins operation, according to the report.

The report recommended at least a 0.1-second grace period that spares offenders within that period after a light has changed to red.

Certain engineering aspects of automatic enforcement programs like grace periods need emphasis, according to the report.

“Positive PR is of the utmost importance,” Officer James Barnes Jr., of the Virginia Beach Police Department, said in the report.

The IIHS agreed, saying in its newsletter that criticism of automatic enforcement can often center on signal timing that opponents believe trap drivers into “running red lights so that more tickets can be issued.”

“Police and transportation officials may believe their community has a safety problem that cameras can help solve, but they have to help the public understand that, too,” Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research, stated in the newsletter. “That’s why it’s important to lay the groundwork and make sure these programs are transparent.”

Public distaste for the perceived manipulation of automatic enforcement should also shape how communities deal with the camera vendors that set up such programs. Those vendors, according to the report, “provide expertise and equipment that would not be practical for many agencies to replicate on their own.”

If a vendor is paid based solely on the number of tickets issued by a program’s cameras, public concerns linger over whether or not a for-profit company can “find some way to influence a program into issuing more citations.” Using the number of tickets in a pay structure should be tiered to weaken the link between the number of tickets issued by a camera and the income it brings for a vendor, according to the report.

Or, better yet, communities using a flat-fee structure can eliminate that link altogether. Flat fees go far in assuaging public perception of crooked automatic enforcement programs, according to the report.

“This payment method is the most acceptable arrangement from the public’s perspective because the fee paid to the vendor is not dependent on citations,” the report stated.

Insurance Implications of Automatic Enforcement

Insurance carriers have several reasons to inflate their insurance rates on a customer, but points on a driving record can be one of the most surefire ways to do so. Although some automatic enforcement programs charge points for violations, motorists will fortunately find that most states consider violations under such programs a civil offense that can’t lead to inflated insurance premiums.

For a full state-by-state breakdown of automatic enforcement penalties from the insurance institute, visit here.

IIHS: Red-Light Cameras Save Lives

The IIHS estimates that in 2010 there were 673 deaths and about 122,000 injuries linked to cars running red lights. The insurance institute also found that, in urban areas, the running of “traffic controls” like red lights made up 22 percent of all crashes, making it the most common type of crash.

Last year, the IIHS publicized several research efforts on automatic enforcement, including anecdotes of drivers killed by “red-light runners” in 14 cities sporting such programs.

Camera-supported programs saved 159 lives in those cities, according to the IIHS.

The IIHS also conducted a survey that found support among two-thirds of motorists in those major cities that had automatic enforcement programs.

“Somehow, the people who get tickets because they have broken the law have been cast as the victims,” IIHS president Adrian Lund said at the time. “The cities that have the courage to use red light cameras despite the political backlash are saving lives.”

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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