SACRAMENTO COUNTY, CA - Red light cameras made millions of dollars for the state of California last year. Critics say those cameras are often inaccurate. Law enforcement says the cameras help save lives.
MAP: RED LIGHT CAMERAS LOCATIONS
There are 22 red light cameras in Sacramento County. If a driver is caught on camera running a red light or making a right hand turn without coming to a complete stop, they'll receive a ticket for $470.
In 2011 red light cameras in Sacramento County generated about 10 thousand tickets and brought in nearly $5 million.
WHERE DID THE MONEY GO:
-The state: $1.2 million
-Sacramento County: $1.9 million
-City of Sacramento: $111,000
-Other cities in Sacramento County: Remaining $1.4 million
Critics claim that red light cameras are inaccurate. And others, argue the cameras are big money makers.
"There are privacy, accuracy, and due process issues with the system in place," said State Senator Joe Simitian in a phone interview. "The fact that these tickets are issued by private sector, for-profit vendors is largely at the root of the problem."
Last year Senator Simitian pushed to scale back the use of red light cameras. His two bills would have reduced the fine or limited the cameras' use. They passed the legislature, but the governor vetoed them, saying that local jurisdiction should decide on the issue.
Charles Henderson felt trapped when red light cameras snapped his photo. He was driving through the intersection of Howe and Fair Oaks Avenue.
"I was coming home and I was halfway through the intersection when it turned red. All of a sudden the lights started coming off and I was like 'crap! I didn't run a light!' But, I felt like I was being attacked by the paparazzi," said Henderson. "It felt like being in the middle of a turkey shoot and I was the turkey."
Months went by and fortunately, Henderson never got a ticket. But, he believes a lot of other people are unfairly cited for running red lights.
"All you have to do is stand out here some night and watch. You will see cars drive by and the lights going off. You will watch them flash by themselves sometimes," said Henderson.
Law enforcement argue that red light cameras prevent crashes caused by drivers running red lights.
"There's been as much as a 75 percent reduction in collisions over a period of time," said Jason Ramos with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.
The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department manages the Sacramento Metropolitan Red Light program.
"It is a cost neutral program. We don't benefit specifically from it," said Ramos.
Ramos said red light cameras do generate a lot of revenue for some jurisdictions. It varies from place to place. He said, "We're well aware of that. But the Sheriff here is committed to it not being a revenue-generating thing. Any money that comes to the sheriff's department from the county is designed to cover our operational expenses associated with the (red light) program as well as the personnel that work it."
Cost breakdown of a red light ticket
Red light tickets typically cost drivers about $470. The base fine is $100. Here's the breakdown of a ticket and the where the added fees go, according to Sacramento County Superior Courts.
$87.22 County Special Purpose Funds
$130.14 City of Sacramento
According the TheNewspaper.com, a traffic-watch website, California has the steepest fines for running red lights. Other states charge about $250. Most states charge around $100 a ticket.
By Suzanne Phan, firstname.lastname@example.org