A representative of the company that installs and operates New Jersey's controversial red light cameras had some good news for motorists Monday, not that any were around to hear it during a proceeding attended only by a gaggle of attorneys in the sterile environment of a federal courtroom.
If you see a flash go off as you drive through an intersection and you're sure you beat the red light, you're probably right, Charles Callari said. It's more than likely a diagnostic test being performed by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based American Traffic Solutions to reset the cameras.
Anyway, Callari, an ATS vice president said, about 50 percent of the pictures snapped at intersections don't result in summonses after going through a required review by local police.
The cameras installed in nearly two dozen towns in New Jersey have raked in millions of dollars but have generated an equal amount of controversy. Monday's hearing was an outgrowth of a lawsuit filed last year by a Jackson Township resident who sued ATS and the town of East Windsor after getting an $85 ticket.
John Telliho claimed the town operated the red light cameras illegally because it failed to follow requirements for the timing of yellow lights that would give motorists enough time to put on the brakes.
A settlement has been proposed between ATS and Telliho and other plaintiffs as a class, but U.S. District Judge Peter Sheridan requested that the parties convene Monday to give him more information before he moves forward. The attorneys, including those representing several towns named as defendants, met in Sheridan's chambers briefly after Callari's presentation.
The pilot program for the red light cameras came under fire from the moment it was approved in 2008 by some legislators who criticized it as too intrusive and as a transparent ploy to raise revenue for cash-strapped towns.
The criticism ratcheted up last June when the state Department of Transportation temporarily suspended the red light cameras at 63 of 85 intersections over concerns about the timing of the yellow lights. All were ultimately reactivated.
The plaintiffs claim East Windsor and other towns including Woodbridge, Glassboro, Pohatcong, Brick, Cherry Hill and others didn't do the required testing for traffic speed to properly time the yellow lights and should refund fines imposed up until they retested the lights last June at the behest of the department of transportation.
According to a court filing in late December, ATS agreed to pay $4.2 million to plaintiffs with valid claims but would not admit wrongdoing or liability. The towns would be removed as defendants. An attorney for ATS didn't immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.
Republican Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon was critical of the proposed settlement.
New Jersey motorists “continue to be screwed by the camera companies and the local governments which collude to steal from them.” O'Scanlon emailed Monday. “This settlement sells them down the river one more time -- and amounts to nothing more than a get-rich-quick scheme for the attorneys involved.”