NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Red-light cameras are gaining popularity across the country. Now, New York City is being sued after it was accused of rigging the lights to catch more drivers and write more tickets.
They're "gotcha" cameras, mounted at intersections. Their photos catch and fine drivers running red lights. New York City first had them in 1998.
"Red-light cameras are to prevent the very dangerous, so called 'T-bone' crashes, where you have the front of vehicle running into the side of another. We are in favor, in concept, of the red-light cameras, but they have to be done to certain engineering criteria," AAA New York spokesperson Robert Sinclair told CBS 2's Rob Morrison on Tuesday.
1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck reports
By federal law, drivers have to have enough time to get through a yellow light -- three seconds at the typical 30 mph intersection. Back in October, engineers at AAA New York discovered a problem. At some intersections with the cameras, the yellow lights were almost a half-second too fast.
Red-light violators who later had to pay up now say they feel set up.
"If you're timing them too short, then it just becomes a revenue enhancement tool and it erodes support for the program," Sinclair said.
Brian Hughes paid a $50 fine after a camera caught him running a light in Manhattan in 2010.
"A $50 ticket might not seem like a lot to some people, but to me it's a lot at the end of the day, and so, it makes me overly hesitant when I drive," Hughes said.
Hughes is part of a class-action suit, alleging fraud against New York City and its 150 red-light cameras. They helped generate more than $235 million over the last five years, including $47 million in fine revenues last year alone and $55.4 million in 2010 after more than 1 million drivers were issued red-light tickets. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is fighting to install more cameras.
"The city in this case, and many other municipalities, have a great incentive to shorten the duration of the yellow lights," plaintiffs' attorney Joseph Santoli said. "These tickets and violations and fines are more like a tax on the broad populace rather than targeting and correcting the behavior of bad drivers."
Santoli said one of the plaintiffs, who was issued a ticket on Staten Island, didn't even go through a red light.
"He stopped one foot in front of the stop line because he knew the yellow was notoriously short," Santoli said. "He didn't want to get caught in the intersection, so he stopped short and he still got a ticket."
The Department of Transportation said in a statement "there has been no substantiation that any red-light cameras in this report were improperly timed or led to any violation being issued incorrectly."
The plaintiffs are demanding the system be scrapped.
City officials have defended the program saying it saves lives and deters dangerous driving.
In all, 540 communities around the country use red-light cameras.
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