A new audit reveals that red light and speed cameras may be little more than a source of revenue for local governments.

A recent audit conducted by Denver, Colorado's city auditor has revealed that red light cameras and speed cameras are not improving public safety as promised. The audit found that the cameras do little else than boost the city's revenue generated from traffic tickets.

"Unfortunately, the Denver Police Department has not demonstrated that the photo radar program has a positive impact on public safety," City Auditor Dennis J. Gallagher wrote. "Because these programs were sold as public safety enhancements but are widely viewed as a cash grab, it undermines public trust to maintain photo enforcement programs that are profitable but whose safety impact has not been conclusively shown. If this situation persists, then the photo enforcement programs should be shut down."

The city began the use of mobile vans equipped with speed cameras in 2002, but has yet to show any evidence the program has actually had a positive impact on public safety. Gallagher notes that the city only uses the number of violations generated by the system as a measure of its effectiveness.

"A reduction in violations does not necessarily entail a significant reduction in speed, nor does it indicate a decrease in accident rates or pedestrian injuries," the audit report noted. "Further, a 2006 internal DPD assessment suggests that DPD believes driver's habits adjust as citizens become familiar with the locations of the photo radar vans. Therefore, a decrease in violations does not directly correlate to a sustained decrease in speeds after photo radar is deployed to a different location."

The audit was also critical of the city's red light cameras. Because the red light cameras were installed along with enlarged signal heads, countdown timers and longer yellow light durations, Gallagher says its impossible to calculated the added safety value of the cameras. He also points out that at "three of the four intersections with red light cameras, the number of right angle accidents was decreasing before the red light cameras were installed."

In fact, the cameras were catching so few red light violations that the city began to ticket motorists for stopping even a few inches beyond the stop bar. Denver is the only city in Colorado that tickets drivers for coming to a complete stop at red lights.

The city has little defense for the audit other than it would be "impossible to conduct a study that would satisfy the auditor's concerns." It's estimated that the city of Denver will generate more than $7 million in revenue from its mobile radar program alone in 2011.


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