NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On December 13, 2011, a person was injured in a rear-end car accident at the intersection of Easton Avenue and Park Boulevard during a busy rush hour.
Just 21 minutes later, another rear-end accident occurred. According to police reports, the roads were clear and dry that evening, but one thing was special about this intersection.
A year earlier, city officials turned on two red light cameras designed to catch motorists running the traffic light located between St. Peter's University Hospital and Buccluech Park.
But an analysis of state and city accident data shows that the total number of accidents at that intersection has actually increased since the cameras were activated on September 6, 2010.
From January 2002 through August 2010, there were at least 96 total accidents, including 23 with injuries. That's an average of 11.07 accidents (2.65 with injuries) per year before the cameras were installed.
But since the camera went online in 2010, until the city's accident data runs out in July 2013, there were 38 accidents at the intersection, including 9 with injuries. That's an average of more than 12 accidents (3 with injuries) per year.
Part of a 5-year statewide pilot program that has seen the installation of 76 red light camera systems in NJ, New Brunswick's cameras have come under scrutiny in recent weeks due to the private corporation that operates it: Redflex Traffic Systems.
"To the best of my knowledge, we are not involved in any of those bribings," said Council President Rebecca Escobar at a February 5 City Council meeting.
But New Brunswick's Council showed no indication they would put an end to the red light camera contract, or try to switch vendors.
"We have a contract with [Redflex] now," said New Brunswick Police Captain JT Miller. "I don't know what the procedure will be when we have to I'm pretty sure it will have to go out to bid again."
Meanwhile, other towns nearby have had success in getting out of the pilot program.
In South Brunswick, the state approved one of the township's intersection for a red light camera system, but the Town Council could not garner enough votes to move forward with a contract.
And in Brick Township, new Mayor John Ducey took office last month and kept his campaign promise to end the town's involvement in the red light camera program. The cameras at three different intersections in Brick were turned off for good on Tuesday.
But other communities have not been so lucky. Despite pleas from nearby South Plainfield Boro, Piscataway opted to continue operating its red light cameras near the towns' borders, despite a measurable increase in accidents.
Still, Redflex stands by their claim that their technology improves public safety. A representative from the company spoke to New Brunswick Today about this article.
Jody Ryan, the communications director for Redflex said, “Traffic safety cameras are implemented in order to create safer roadways. Over time you do see drivers modify the way they drive, sometimes it’s a decrease in collisions, a decrease in citations.”
When asked what time period is used to measure an improvement, Ryan said, “There is no set number, no silver bullet. Each intersection is its own individual case. Sometimes it takes three years or more, people begin to modify their driving habits.”
According to city officials, the cameras were installed as a matter of public safety, but critics have claimed the cameras' sole purpose is to act as a revenue stream for the city government.
As we reported last month, the red light cameras made the city over $1 million in its first three years of operation. According to state records, the system issued roughly 1,300 citations to violators each month, or just over 43 tickets per day.
Still, city officials admitted that they had done no research on the rate of accidents near the cameras at the February 5 City Council meeting, even though residents first raised concerns about the Redflex system during the summer of 2012.
"I'm sure that when the pilot program's over, you know, we'll get a report back from the state on how the whole system worked. I don't know any specifics if that camera specifically increased or decreased in accidents," said Captain Miller.
But Council President Escobar came forward with with very narrow information on the accident rates at this week's Council meeting.
Without stating specific numbers, Escobar told the audience, "The last report shows that right-angle accidents have been reduced at that intersection but rear-end accidents have increased."
After being pressed by New Brunswick Today, Miller admitted that the total number of accidents had, in fact, increased since the camera was installed.
The NBPD's data, which differred slightly from the New Brunswick Today analysis of public records, confirmed that the total number of accidents had increased from 13 before the camera was installed, down to 8 in the first year of operation, back up to 13 in the second year, and to 15 in its third year.
Below are the annual accident statistics for the intersection, based on a review of DOT data and the results of a public records request filed with the City of New Brunswick. 2010 is split into two sections, before and after the cameras were installed.
Activated Sept. 6, 2010
*Data only available through July.
There were numerous discrepancies in the data, including more than thirty accidents that city police acknowledged but could not be identified in state records, and nine accidents that the DOT data included but the city's did not.