Catching red-light runners

Accidents in Five Towns likely reduced by cameras


Despite an increase in the number of rear-end crashes when red-light cameras were first installed, officials say that they have proven effective in reducing vehicular accidents in Nassau County.

Christopher Mistron, the county’s Traffic Safety educator, said that when a red light camera is installed, the number of rear-end crashes at that intersection initially increases, but then decreases as people become aware of the video monitoring.

“Safety is the driving force of the red-light program,” Mistron said. “They were installed to try and improve safety on the roadways and to reduce accidents where running red lights was listed as the cause of the crash.”

In the Five Towns, there are red-light cameras in Cedarhurst, at the intersection of Peninsula Boulevard and Rockaway Turnpike; in Lawrence, at Rockaway Turnpike and Nassau Expressway; and in Woodmere, at Woodmere and Peninsula boulevards.

The cameras — facing both east and west — at the intersection of Rockaway Turnpike and Nassau Expressway have captured nearly 3,300 “events,” which include car accidents, and the county issued more than 1,500 violations for that intersection in 2009.

“Right now we have 38 intersections up and running with red-light cameras, and we expect by the end of the year and into January to have all 50 red-light cameras up and running,” Mistron said.

The Nassau County Traffic Safety Board first proposed red-light cameras in 1992, but it wasn’t until two years later that a committee was formed to research the use and safety of the cameras. The committee consisted of the Traffic Safety, Traffic and Parking Violations Agency and the Department of Public Works Traffic Engineering unit.

When the red-light camera program began in August 2009, the cameras were limited to county roads, but as time went on the cameras were installed on village and state roads as well.

Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA New York, said that when the red-light camera program was first proposed, he was concerned that drivers would not have sufficient time before a light turned red to get through an intersection, but that when the program was established, his concerns were allayed.

“We looked at the engineering considerations and set up the program so it is fair and safe,” Sinclair said. “We’re glad to see it in place.”

Nassau County Police Department Detective Lt. Kevin Smith said the police were not involved in the red-light program. He added, “From a police perspective, I’d like to say that the cameras deter things, but there is nothing showing that they do,” he said. “I agree with the use of red-light cameras strictly from an enforcement end, and if they’re going to help people stop, that’s a good thing, since we can’t be at every corner.”

Former Nassau County Legislator Jeff Toback, who was a proponent of the red-light program as a legislator, said he thinks it is a good idea because police have stated that the cameras have not caused more rear-end accidents, which people anticipated.

“The red-light cameras are a safety measure to prevent T-bone crashes, and the revenues they generate are also a plus, since the county needs more revenue and no one wants to raise taxes,” Toback said. “Over the past year or so I know several friends and acquaintances have gotten tickets, so it seems to me the system is working the way it’s intended.”

Others have different opinions. Noam Rejman, the owner of L.I. Cabinet Express on Burnside Avenue in Inwood, said she believes the cameras’ main purpose is to help the county generate income. “They’re going to keep installing the cameras at intersections with a lot of traffic,” Rejman said. “They don’t know another way to make money.”

Mistron acknowledged the criticism about revenue, but said, “If the person simply stops, then no ticket is issued.”