There is currently a warning out to drivers: the number of red-light cameras on Long Island is about to double.
But some are wondering if the cameras are there to reduce accidents or to make money for the counties and companies that install them.
Red-light cameras have been around for two decades, but they suddenly are proliferating. On Long Island, legislators are quietly approving doubling the amount. Both Suffolk and Nassau Counties plan to have 100 intersections each with lights, cameras and controversy.
“I am suggesting for the first time that the United States Justice Department investigate these two major corporations,” former Nassau County District Judge Samuel Levine told CBS 2′s Jennifer McLogan on Thursday.
The two major corporations that Levine is referring to are Arizona-based ATS and Virginia-based ACS. Both are private companies that administer the red-light cameras on Long Island and rake in millions of dollars.
“With their operations, their contracts, their methods and procedures, they’re in it for the money,” Levine said, “and to jeopardize our civil rights and rights to fair hearings.”
The vendors receive a share of the fines collected based on the number of citations paid each month.
“I think it’s rather odd when the government gets into business with a private enterprise,” Patrick Gallagher of Setauket said, “and splits the profit while preying on the driving public.”
Gallagher has taken a stopwatch to yellow lights to prove that they are non-uniform, ranging from 3.6 to 5.4 seconds. He claims that overzealous cameras are snapping away, nabbing drivers at the busiest intersections as opposed to the most dangerous ones.
The business is a lucrative one. A red-light camera ticket is $50, the surcharge is $15 and a late fee is $25, not to mention that offenders have to pay another $4 if the ticket is paid online or over the phone. One ticket could almost double to $94.
But State Assemblyman Charles Lavine is of the opinion that these cameras save lives.
“Most of these companies are reputable,” Lavine said. “But that doesn’t mean that the public has to let its guard down. The public has to remain vigilant, especially any time we’re talking about a lot of money. And we are talking about a tremendous amount of money here.”
Both private red-light camera companies – ATS and ACS – said that their goal is to increase public safety honestly and effectively.
The final determination on the ticket is made not by the red-light camera companies, but by the Nassau County Traffic & Parking Violations Agency and the Suffolk County’s District Attorney Staff.