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CBS2 Exclusive: Suffolk Lawmakers Claim Red-Light Cameras, Short Yellow Lights Trap Drivers

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A Long Island man claims red-light cameras are rigged to trap drivers, and is on a mission to expose what he claims is fraud.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported exclusively Monday, the so-called Red Light Robin Hood might now be getting some help from lawmakers.

The lawmakers here in Suffolk County are calling for major reforms. They say drivers are confused in many locations where red light cameras are posted, and that is resulting in a pileup of unfair tickets and accidents.

It started as one man's crusade. The so-called Red Light Robin Hood was arrested on misdemeanor charges after he very publicly tampered with red light cameras in the county, rendering them useless.

Some Suffolk County lawmakers took notice, and they have demanded legal changes.

"This is about raising revenue without saying, 'Oh we're raising taxes,'" said Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

At issue are quick yellow lights that are timed inconsistently -- some less than three seconds long -- often when cameras are present.

Offending drivers end up getting caught short and getting slapped with tickets, critics said.

"All of a sudden it turned orange, OK, the last second, and it turned red immediately," said red-light camera ticket recipient Darren Elkins. "So there is no time for you to stop."

Complaints have also arisen about mixed signals – which combine arrows for turns and solid lights for going straight.

"It goes to yellow, to red, and then two seconds later to green again," Trotta said.

Trotta, a former police officer, calls it all a trap. He said the short light durations were configured right after cameras went up.

"They're giving you a short red light, and the people are either slamming on their brakes or running through it and getting an $80 ticket," Trotta said "I mean, clearly, there's no safety issue, because there's no one coming. The light was green."

"We believe this is really 'gotcha' law enforcement," added Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip). "People are getting banged for tickets that they don't deserve, quite frankly."

The legislators are taking on a contract that awards the vendor a hefty percentage of fines, and sets a minimum number of violations. Some wondered if that amounted to a ticket quota.

"Safety's first," said Paul Margiotta, head of the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency. "You can't deny that it creates revenue -- of course it does -- but you know, you're creating revenue trying to change behavior."

Margiotta said there is no quota, and cameras are moved when drivers start complying. He said yellow-light length does vary because it is based on the road's speed limit.

He denied the claim that the county is deliberately placing red-light cameras where they know the yellow lights are short.

"Absolutely not," he said. "There is no consideration to the length of the light."

But auto body shops report an uptick in rear-end wrecks.

"It's always been slow down and you take precaution when you see a yellow light," said Angelo Buffolino
Of Gaio's Collision. "Now it's more, you know, speeding through it; slamming on the brakes; a lot of people getting caught in between."

The county said accidents with injuries are down 10.6 percent. AAA still waits for requested accident data.

But Suffolk Republicans said they are not waiting any longer. On Tuesday, they plan to call publicly for the red-light camera program to be scaled back dramatically if not stopped altogether.

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