Los Angeles Officials Recommend Phasing Out Red-Light Cameras

Last week the Los Angeles City Council recommended the city stop issuing red-light camera citations at the end of the month and move to “phase out” the program entirely, according to Ari Bloomekatz of the Los Angeles Times.

This move is not surprising, as red-light camera programs have received significant criticism across Southern California over the past few years.

An audit by Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Gruel found red-light cameras cost the city more money than they generate in revenue and fail to conclusively improve public safety (audit available online here). In 2009, KCBS/KCAL conducted an independent investigation of the thirty-two intersections where red-light cameras were installed that found in many cases they made roads less safe. (See here for a map of all 32 camera-rigged corners.) In twenty of thirty-two (63 percent) intersections the number of accidents increased; in three of thirty-two (9 percent) intersections the number of accidents remained the same; and in only nine of thirty-two (28 percent) intersections the number of accidents decreased.

Meanwhile KCBS/KCAL found that neighboring cities Montclaire, Upland, El Monte and Fullerton have all discontinued use of red-light cameras. In 2009, officials in Huntington Beach elected to break their contract and end the program before it began. A Huntington Beach Police spokesman told KCBS/KCAL, “There are quite a few studies out there that will show an increase in rear end accidents in (intersections with red-light cameras).”

Bloomekatz reports that 45,000 citations are issued annually with a collection rate of 60 percent. However Richard M. Tefank, executive director of the city’s Board of Police Commissioners, told the Los Angeles Budget and Finance Committee that the tickets are a part of a “voluntary payment program” — meaning there is no penalty for drivers who don’t pay the fines.

Ending the program is easier said than done and it may prove costly for both the city and the private operator they partner with. The private operator, American Traffic Solutions, installed and operates equipment in 32 intersections that would need to be removed. The firm also has approximately 65,000 outstanding tickets that may be difficult to collect once drivers realize the fines are voluntary.

Harris Kenny is a state and local government policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Harris has worked alongside policymakers in Colorado, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon and elsewhere to implement public policy solutions. Harris is currently serving as a member of the Local Authority Working Group of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper's Amendment 64 Task Force, which is providing guidance on implementing recreational marijuana legalization. He conducts research on public finance, public-private partnerships, privatization, public safety, criminal justice and regulatory policy issues.

Harris has appeared on various television and radio outlets, such as National Public Radio, HuffPost Live, Al Jazeera, Voice of Russia and Colorado Public Television. His writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The Denver Post, The Sacramento Bee, The Orange County Register, Real Clear Markets,, and other print and online outlets. He also serves as co-editor of Reason Foundation's Annual Privatization Report ( and Innovators in Action ( publications.

Prior to joining Reason Foundation, Harris worked at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. He earned a BA in Economics from Pepperdine University, where he worked as a research assistant to Dr. Luisa Blanco at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy.

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