Since New Jersey’s controversial red light camera program ended seven months ago, the cameras have stopped issuing tickets but have not been removed. Instead, like the Eye of Sauron, they are defeated but are still watching, waiting for their opportunity to regain power.
The traffic cameras that many critics denounced as for-profit parasites preying on drivers could be attaching themselves to school buses, if a bill that passed the Senate last month passes the State Assembly and becomes law.
The bill would permit municipalities and school districts to mount traffic cameras on school buses, which would automatically issue tickets to drivers who violate traffic laws by passing school buses that are stopped with their red lights flashing.
Proponents of the bill say that the cameras would help keep children safe.
“It seems to me that what we’re talking about is saving the life of a child, and as far as I’m concerned whatever fee we put on it for passing a school bus may not be enough,”said Diane Allen, a Republican state Senator and one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
Republican Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, an outspoken critic of traffic cameras who declared it “a great day for the motorists of New Jersey” when the red light camera program ended in December, has been just as skeptical of attempts to mount cameras on school buses, even in the name of child safety.
“(T)hey are invoking our concern for kids, implying that if you oppose the cameras you don’t care about kids’ safety. Pretty shrewd PR move,” O’Scanlon said.
He went on to say “the only way that equipment can pay for itself is if they have dramatically high fines, and they go after people making simple but not hazardous mistakes.”
Such mistakes could include stopping less than 25 feet away from a bus, or failing to slow to 10 miles per hour when passing a school bus on the other side of a grass median strip.
To ensure that the cameras pay for themselves, the bill increases the fine from “not less than $100″ to “not less than $300 or more than $500,” plus five points on the violator’s license. Camera vendors would likely pay to install the cameras, meaning that even the poorest school districts could get a piece of the action.
From 2010 to 2014, Newark brought in $34 million from red light cameras, with $16.2 million going to the city, $4.5 million to the state and $13.3 million to Redflex Traffic Systems, the private-sector vendor that provided and maintained many of the cameras.
Republican state Senator James Holzapfel sponsored the Senate version of the bill, which passed on June 29 by a margin of 35-4. Holzapfel has received a $1,000 campaign contribution from Redflex, as well as $1,000 from traffic camera vendor American Traffic Solutions, according to New Jersey campaign finance records.
The legislation has support from both sides of the aisle. Democratic Assemblyman Troy Singleton, one of the sponsors of the Assembly bill, noted its “bipartisan” support.
“I am pleased that this bipartisan initiative was approved by an overwhelming majority in the State Senate last month, and look forward to it being considered in the Assembly this fall,” Singleton said in a statement to Watchdog.