Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton are among 19 communities throughout the state that would be authorized to install red-light cameras under legislation recently passed by the state Senate.
The use of the cameras, which snag errant drivers by capturing an image of their license plates as they drive through a red signal, has been highly controversial.
Proponents cite various studies that have shown the cameras reduce red-light violations and resulting side-impact crashes. Opponents cite other studies that show the cameras increase rear-end collisions.
There’s also concern that drivers who receive a citation in the mail are robbed of their due process rights since they can’t confront a camera in court, and communities are employing the devices more as a means to raise revenue than to promote traffic safety.
Lackawanna County’s senator, John Blake, voted for the bill.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, was approved in the Senate by a 35-14 vote in October and is now before a committee in the state House of Representatives.
The bill permits third-class cities with populations of at least 18,000 to install the cameras at select locations, which must be approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Pileggi has cited statistics gathered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that showed 676 people were killed and 113,000 injured nationwide by drivers who ran red lights in 2009. Red-light cameras reduced violations by 40 to 50 percent and injuries by 25 to 35 percent, according to a study conducted by the institute.
The National Motorists Association, which opposes the cameras, said numerous other studies have shown the cameras actually increase the number of accidents, primarily because they cause motorists to jam on their brakes, leading to rear-end collisions.
A 2007 study by The Virginia Transportation Research Council found accidents caused by drivers running red lights dropped by 24 to 22 percent and rear-end crashes increased by 50 to 71 percent at the same intersections.
Philadelphia is currently the only city in Pennsylvania that utilizes the cameras. The Philadelphia Inquirer, in a story published in October, reported its review of police data showed crashes are up 12 to 15 percent at intersections that have had the cameras for at least a year.
The National Motorists Association contends there are more effective ways to reduce red-light violations, including adjusting yellow-light duration and higher visibility traffic signals.
“If city officials are truly interested in the safety of their citizens, they should look at solutions that work rather than just collect money from traffic tickets,” Gary Biller, executive director of the motorists group, said in a press release.
Scranton Police Chief Dan Duffy said he is in “100 percent support” of red-light cameras throughout the city, but wasn’t sure if their installation and upkeep could or would be financially supported.
“If we had those installed, it’s going to automatically be for the betterment of safety at intersections. People will slow down and stop at those intersections hopefully knowing the fact that they would be recorded and a citation would probably follow. That way, they don’t just have to worry if a police officer is standing or parked there at an intersection monitoring traffic,” Duffy explained Friday.
“It will make any intersection more safe than it already is. To me, it’s a no-brainer. If it saves one life or saves one person from being seriously injured, then it will be a successful project.”
He also believes that the camera would not lead to an increase in car accidents, as reported in Philadelphia by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Our area, as far as traffic congestion, is certainly nowhere near Philadelphia’s, so I couldn’t predict that we’d have any serious incidents as a result of that,” Duffy said.
Mayor Chris Doherty was more hesitant about the cameras, but said the city would consider them should they be approved by the legislature.
“I think it’s worth looking at. We’d have to study it. I’d wait until the final bill is passed because it may change. The House passes a different bill, then they have to go to committee and merge it,” Doherty said on Friday.