Red-light cameras save lives, according to their manufacturers, by penalizing drivers who run traffic signals. If camera manufacturers are to be believed, just the presence of a red-light camera is often enough to slow drivers and make them more attentive.
Opponents of red light cameras say their primary function is revenue generation, not traffic safety. Intersections equipped with red light cameras often have shortened yellow light cycles, increasing the likelihood of a red light violation (and thus, boosting revenue for both the municipality and the camera company).
In fact, some studies have shown that red-light cameras actually increase the risk of rear-impact accidents caused by drivers unable to stop in time. One thing is clear, however: red-light cameras generate a substantial amount of income, with municipalities like New Orleans generating a projected $18 million from the devices last year.
They also impact drivers in some unexpected ways. Take the case of Tacoma, Washington police lieutenant Anthony Abuan, for example: on January 1, 2009, Abuan's car was photographed by a red-light camera in nearby Fife, making a right turn on red before a complete stop.
As The Newspaper explains, Abuan was issued a citation for the offense, which was mailed to his residential address. Since Abuan doesn't have mail service at his residence in rural Eatonville, Washington, the citation was never received, and thus went unpaid for several years.
In fact, Abuan only found out about the citation when he went to refinance his mortgage in 2010. By then, the unpaid $124 ticket had been turned over to a collections agency, which summarily flagged Abuan's credit rating. His damaged credit has since left him ineligible for mortgage refinancing at competitive rates, and also shot down hopes of increasing his credit limits.
Abuan is, of course, suing the city of Fife for its error, hoping to recover the cost of higher interest rates on his mortgage plus his legal fees. While Abuan's case may be a bit unusual (since most of us get mail at our residential addresses), it does serve as a cautionary tale.
What if you're ticketed, and the citation is lost or stolen from the mail? What if a clerical error, or a careless postal worker, delivers it to the wrong address? The fact is that red-light citations are issued with no proof that the driver cited was behind the wheel, and they're not issued by a law enforcement officer.
Mistakes happen, and they can have devastating financial repercussions. If you live near cities that use red-light cameras, ponder that the next time you get behind the wheel.
This story originally appeared on The Car Connection.
for more features.