About two years ago, red light cameras in New Jersey went dark, and opponents and supporters began the wait to see if the state Department of Transportation would scuttle or keep the program.
Two years later, they're still waiting.
The DOT has yet to render a final report and make recommendations to lawmakers on the ultimate fate of camera enforcement in the state. The cameras, which capture images of vehicles at intersections, were turned off on Dec. 16, 2014.
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Last year, NJDOT officials said they were still crunching numbers, but gave no timetable when they planned to release the findings, based on 2014 data and five years of numbers from 73 red light camera monitoring intersections in 25 towns. A spokesman said it would be "several months" before the report was finalized.
There has been no word this year. DOT officials declined to respond to several emails and a request to the Transportation Commissioner, about the status of the report and reasons for the delay.
Camera opponents contend the state is quietly burying the program by not issuing a report.
"It is safe to say the state isn't anxious to continue the red light camera program," Steve Carrellas, National Motorists Association state chapter director of government and public affairs, told NJ.com. "The final findings will never be able to show a valid safety impact."
The DOT is examining the data to determine if the red-light cameras reduced crashes at intersections during the test program. While the 2008 law, which created the red light camera pilot program, requires a final report, it does not give a deadline for a delivery date.
"The lack of a final report ensures keeping N.J. red light cameras shut down," Carrellas said.
Officials at companies who operate red-light cameras said that more crashes, deaths and injuries will occur while the cameras are off and the report is being drafted.
"There's no question the red-light safety camera program saved lives," said Charles Territo, a spokesman for American Traffic Solutions, which operated cameras in 17 New Jersey municipalities. "Hopefully, the legislature and the DOT will rely on this data and previous program results, (and) not manufactured outrage from a few vocal opponents, to justify the red-light safety program's continuation."
Rick Short, founder of the group, Stop Robo-Cops, has questioned the DOT's findings in previous reports. [[238427591, C]]
Short, who said he's never received a red light camera summons, has sifted through raw DOT and police department crash data and used that information to challenge earlier findings that the cameras reduced collisions. Short has cited discrepancies, such as a fewer number of collisions listed in earlier DOT reports, when compared with accident report data.
Camera company officials said their conclusions about the camera effectiveness are based on violations and preliminary crash data. Drivers paid a total of $156 million in fines during the five years cameras were used.
"Previous NJDOT reports have consistently validated the effectiveness of New Jersey's red-light safety camera program," Territo said. "Based on the data we've seen, we're confident this final report will again support an extension of the program."
But Republican Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon said he doesn't need the DOT's findings to make a decision.
"The DOT knows this program is a failure and they have bigger things on their plate. The program is dead," he said. "I don't think there are a majority of legislators foolish enough to ignore the facts and reinstate this program, which amounts to government sponsored theft."