Last month, the county legislature unanimously approved a request to the state to allow for the installation of red light cameras at up to 50 Nassau intersections.
Days later both the state Senate and Assembly followed suit and earlier this week, the bill was signed into law by Governor David Paterson.
These cameras will effectively catch red light runners in the act, snap a picture of their vehicle's license plate and send them a ticket via mail. These cameras turn on only when a motorist runs a red light.
The legislation will enable Nassau to opt into the five-year pilot program; the cameras have been included in the 2009-2010 budget.
The legislation makes way for the county to drum up much-needed revenue and reduce vehicular accidents at some of the most dangerous intersections in Nassau and could include the following Hicksville locations at Old Country Road - South Oyster Bay Road, Levittown Parkway, Jerusalem Avenue and Division Avenue.
Prior to passage of the bill in Nassau, New York City was the only municipality in the state with Albany's permission to install red light cameras - and the results have been dramatic. The city reported a 73 percent drop in violations between 1994, when the cameras first went up, and 2005. Additionally, the city reported a 41 percent reduction in collisions and 35 percent drop in vehicular fatalities.
According to Senator Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), who sponsored the Senate bill, a 2007 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that almost 900 people were killed and an estimated 153,000 injured nationwide as a result of people running red lights. The senator further notes that one person dies from every 100 red light related accidents. "These red light cameras will help improve the safety of our roadways and protect every Nassau resident," Johnson said. "This measure has long been a priority for County Executive Tom Suozzi and the Nassau County Legislature."
Assemblyman Rob Walker (R-Hicksville) added, "The passage of legislation allowing Nassau County to install red light cameras comes down to one thing and that is the safety of motorists and pedestrians on the county's very heavily traveled thoroughfares. Having lived in Nassau my entire life, I know just how dangerous roads such as Old Country Road can be. I believe it is imperative that the county step in and install these cameras so that we can reverse recent trends and save lives. I was proud to have supported this legislation and believe it sends a strong message to those who disobey laws and carelessly put other motorists and pedestrians at risk."
As part of the program, county officials must issue an annual report to state leaders detailing the effectiveness of this technology. Further, the legislation protects vehicle owners if their vehicle was reported stolen and also protects vehicle owners from traffic signal malfunctions.
Under the red light camera bill, cameras at specific intersections will take digital images of the license plates of vehicles running red lights. The county would then mail a fine of up to $50 to the cars' registered owners whenever a camera captures a violation.
Back in February, Suozzi painted a grim financial picture for Nassau. He warned that if $30 million in new, state-generated revenue did not happen, a home energy fuel sales tax would be implemented come July 1 and county funding for social service agencies, including Nassau's numerous youth programs, would be cut by $12 million.
As a result, Nassau lawmakers approved the emergency measure to help offset service cuts. "I am pleased that the governor has signed the bill allowing Nassau County to install red light cameras at 50 intersections. It will make our roads safer, particularly at junctions where we have experienced a high volume of accidents. The measure will also allow us to generate revenue for the county without raising property taxes," said Suozzi, who added, "I thank State Senator Craig Johnson, Assemblymembers Charles Lavine and Earlene Hooper, as well as State Senator Charles Fuschillo, for their efforts in passing the red light camera legislation."
While the revenue generated by the red light camera will definitely be a help, Suozzi said additional assistance from Albany is still needed. "Our health and human service agency contracts are in danger of being cut effective July 1 if the state does not pass legislation allowing us to tax cigarettes and implement an administrative fee on traffic tickets," said Suozzi. "I urge the state legislature to help Nassau County continue to provide vital assistance to some of our most vulnerable residents."
Assemblyman Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who sponsored the Senate bill, said he is pleased the Red Light Camera Bill passed for both financial and safety reasons. "Because photo monitoring has reduced the threat of red-light running in other municipalities, I have long pushed for the installation of these lifesaving devices," said Lavine. "Protecting our citizens' lives and safety is government's first responsibility. Drivers who run red lights in Nassau County pose a serious danger."
He continued, "New York City ... has had dramatically successful results with the program, reporting a 73 percent drop in violations since the cameras were installed in 1994 and a dramatic decrease in collisions and auto fatalities. The revenue the cameras will provide will also help Nassau County's current fiscal crisis."
Although he finds it "unfortunate that bill was only finally passed due to the current fiscal crisis," Assemblyman Tom McKevitt (R-East Meadow) said he has long been a supporter of the Red Light Camera Law concept. "I believe it will help increase public safety. One of the most frequent complaints I receive from constituents is the amount of individuals who violate traffic laws," said McKevitt. "Although we cannot have police officers at every intersection, this bill will help ensure traffic law compliance."