FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2013-01-16
Unfortunately, even seasoned drivers all too often operate their vehicles on a sort of mental autopilot. Most every driver has had the experience of having been deep in thought or daydreaming, and suddenly realizing he or she has driven a significant distance without concentrating on the roadway.
Lack of concentration can be particularly dangerous, however, when trying to orchestrate safe passage through a complex, busy intersection, especially when a red light commands a stop.
Even worse, some drivers are so caught up in getting to their destinations as fast as possible, or so stressed about being late, that they actually make affirmative decisions to run red lights.
And missing a red light through negligence or recklessness can cause a motor vehicle accident with property damage, injury and even death.
Rochester’s red light camera program
In response, the city of Rochester, N.Y., started its Red Light Photographic Enforcement Program in October 2010, installing special cameras at its most dangerous intersections to take pictures and video footage of red light violators. According to the city website, red light violations, especially those that happen at least two seconds after the light change, are “the leading cause of urban crashes,” frequently injurious and fatal.
Practically, the city reports, it can be hard for a police officer to see every aspect of a red-light violation needed to prove the charge. In addition, traffic at busy intersections can block police-car movement, another impediment to successful ticketing of red-light runners.
In its effort to raise awareness of the problem and of the camera program, Rochester launched a media blitz that includes disturbing films of actual intersection collisions. The city is about two-thirds of the way to its goal of 50 camera-wired intersections. Law enforcement personnel review all captured images to be sure traffic citations are appropriate, and more are rejected than issued. Appropriate citations are mailed to vehicle owners.
A violation commands a $50 fine, increasing to $75 after 30 days. An unpaid fine will normally be reduced to a judgment and referred for collection. The vehicle owner may challenge the citation at a hearing.
According to a Democrat and Chronicle “watchdog report” on the Rochester camera program:
- The most citations come from intersections along Mt. Read Boulevard, especially at Emerson Street.
- Car owners in local ZIP code 14619 get the most tickets.
- The city makes more than $300,000 in monthly revenue from the program.
- The data is mixed as to whether the program has made Rochester intersections safer, but residents do not like its Big Brother aspect.
New York law
So what is the state law the city is trying to enforce? Everyone knows generally that a red light means to stop at an intersection and not enter it. Specifically, the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law provides that a driver “facing a steady circular red” traffic-control signal at an intersection shall:
- “Stop at a clearly marked stop line,” if there is one.
- If no stop line is drawn, “stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection.”
- If no crosswalk is marked, stop “at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of the approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering the intersection.”
Exceptions to the basic requirement of stopping at a red light include a legally permitted right turn on red, or a legally permitted left turn on red from a one-way street onto a one-way street. Such turns are not allowed at every intersection so drivers must careful to check signs.
Red-light accident victims
Time will tell how successful the city of Rochester’s red light camera program is at reducing accidents. In the meantime, if you or a loved one is in an intersection crash because of the negligent or reckless driving of another person, consult with an experienced New York personal injury attorney about your potential legal remedies. Money damages may be available for vehicle damage, medical costs, trauma and lost wages. In such a lawsuit, evidence that the other driver illegally ran a red light would likely be extremely important to your case.