West Palm Beach car accidents climb after red-light cameras installed

West Palm Beach car accidents have more than doubled in the two months since red-light cameras were installed at intersections, the Palm Beach Post reported.

The newspaper tabulated rear-end car accidents. The intersection cameras have generated controversy around the country. In Chicago, more than $50 million a year is being collected amid accusations that cities are using the devices to generate revenue without regard for whether they are reducing accidents. In Arizona, the governor recently announced the end to that state’s program, mandating that the cameras be shut off later this summer after a trial period in which motorists largely ignored tickets issued by mail.

At the three intersections equipped with the cameras in West Palm Beach, 2,675 tickets were issued totaling more than $330,000 for the month of March. A state law passed this spring authorizes use of the cameras to improve traffic safety.

However, rear-end collisions increased to 5 from 2 as motorists hit the brakes to avoid a ticket. Advocates contend that it’s too soon to draw conclusions. But detractors say the same thing is happening wherever the cameras are installed.

“It’s more about the money than it is traffic safety,” said Kevin Bakewell, vice president of AAA in Tampa.

The cameras will no-doubt pose an interesting legal question. Municipalities can be held liable for defective roads, inoperable street lights and other safety hazards that lead to the serious injury or death of a motorist. Footage from such cameras has already been sought in a number of accident cases and it’s only a matter of time before a government entity is sued in the wake of a serious collision blamed on the cameras.

The state law that takes effect July 1 increases the fine mailed to car owners from $125 to $158.

Palm Beach is the first city in Palm Beach County to issue the fines, although more than half a dozen others have announced plans to proceed with cameras of their own. Palm Beach County plans to put cameras at 10 intersections.

A 2007 study in Virginia found that rear-end collisions increased by 27 percent after red-light cameras were installed, while crashes caused by red-light runners decreased by 42 percent.

The city decided to refund two-thirds of the March fines, after outrage over enforcement of slow-rolling right turns on red. Mayor Lois Frankel was among the motorists cited.