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N.J. Assemblyman: Red Light Cameras Are Busting Innocent People

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A state assemblyman said Monday a study proves what New Jersey drivers have said all along – many red light cameras are snapping and sending tickets to people who did not break the law.

As CBS 2's Don Champion reported, New Jersey residents have been complaining about the cameras ever since they were first mounted.

And on Monday, Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon (R-Red Bank) on Monday presented online videos at several intersections in northern New Jersey where yellow lights were supposed to be either three or four seconds long, based on the average traffic speed of the intersecting roads.

"A government we're a part of is sanctioning theft from innocent people," O'Scanlon said.

N.J. Assemblyman: Red Light Cameras Are Busting Innocent People

Using a digital stopwatch in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, the videos appeared to show the yellow lights turning to red anywhere from one-tenth to one-quarter of a second early.

O'Scanlon said the difference might seem trivial but the reality is not: About 30 percent of violations occur in the first quarter-second of a light turning red, he said.

``It means you're illegally ticketing and fining 30 percent of people,'' O'Scanlon said.

A forensic video expert helped record and time the yellow lights – which by law are supposed to be set in part by the posted speed limit.

The yellow light at the intersection of Lincoln Highway (U.S. 1-9 Truck) and Sip Avenue in Jersey City is supposed to be 4 seconds, but it changes faster.

In Union at Route 82 and Morris Avenue, the yellow light is supposed to be seconds, but it comes in under that.

"Make no mistake about it -- cameras that are short are breaking the law themselves," he said. "It is the folks that are operating the cameras -- the camera companies the municipalities -- that are breaking the law, not the people getting the tickets -- at least 30 or 50 percent of them."

In 2008, the Legislature authorized a five-year pilot program to determine whether the cameras reduced the frequency and severity of crashes at intersections with a history of motorists running red lights. Motorists have paid millions of dollars in fines because of the cameras; one small town in Gloucester County produced more than $1 million in paid violations from May 2011 through May 2012 from one intersection.

``Their appetite for your money is so voracious they rolled the dice,'' O'Scanlon said, referring to the 25 towns that have the cameras and the companies that install and monitor them and receive a cut of the violations payments. ``They count on us not paying attention.''

O'Scanlon said he would forward videos from more than a dozen intersections to the state Department of Transportation for review. He said he expected cameras at those intersections to be removed.

Department of Transportation officials responded vaguely to the claim.

``We look forward to reviewing any material submitted by Assemblyman O'Scanlon to our department, and appreciate his concerns on the red light camera issue,'' DOT spokesman Joseph Dee said Monday.

And on the roads of New Jersey Monday night, motorists' feelings about the cameras were mixed.

"They hold people accountable, so I think that's important," one driver said.

"I think there's something about getting pulled over that causes you to not do something again -- getting scared having a run in with a police officer," added driver Randi Siegel.

But at the Routes 1 and 9 and Sip Avenue intersection, some drivers told 1010 WINS' Gary Baumgarten they had indeed been busted unfairly.

"I agree, man," one man said. "I got four tickets already."

Baumgarten spotted a Mr. Softee ice cream truck entering the intersection on the green in Jersey City and making a slow left turn. The strobe light on the camera went off, photographing the ice cream truck for a ticket.

In June 2012, state officials suspended the program for a month after determining that 63 of the 85 cameras were not tested to ensure the yellow lights were timed properly and required towns to re-certify the cameras to specifications outlined in the legislation.

In March, a preliminary settlement was announced in which Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions would set up a $4.2 million fund to pay plaintiffs. The company did not admit any wrongdoing or liability.

The following month, the state said it had suspended plans to add more cameras before next December.

For now, O'Scanlon is calling for cameras at lights that are not correctly timed to be removed.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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