Motorists in Colorado Springs appear to be thinking twice before stepping on the gas to beat a yellow light.
The number of tickets handed out to motorists running red lights at intersections equipped with high-definition cameras dropped nearly 30 percent in the program’s first six months, according to statistics released by the city.
An average of 47 tickets a day were issued in the first two weeks that officers handed out tickets to motorists photographed running red lights at four intersections across the city.
That figure dropped to roughly 33 tickets a day in the first two weeks of April, city statistics show.
When the Police Department pitched the idea to City Council, officials hailed it as a chance to reduce side-impact crashes in dangerous intersections.
John Leavitt, city spokesman, said traffic engineers have been “heartened” by the drop, as it shows motorists are finally slowing down when approaching an amber light.
“That’s good news — we think that translates into safer intersections where we’re having these cameras in place,” Leavitt said. “It’s early in this process … but it’s kind of hopeful.”
The greatest decline came at the intersection of Murray Boulevard and Platte Avenue, where tickets dropped 41 percent by the end of March. In addition, tickets issued at the intersection dropped precipitously, from around four a day to roughly one.
The intersection of Nevada Avenue and Bijou Street showed the least improvement, dropping a meager 1 percent, due largely to a marked increase in the number of tickets handed out in March and April.
The two other intersections with cameras — Platte Avenue and Circle Drive and Oro Blanco Drive and Barnes Road — each recorded between a quarter and a third fewer tickets issued in April compared to October.
Despite the decline in tickets, the program has proven lucrative for the city.
The city took in $175,731 in fines through the end of March, money that ends up in the city’s general fund. It is not earmarked for any specific purpose, Leavitt said.
That doesn’t include the nearly $115,000 in fines that went directly to the vendor supplying the cameras.
Motorists have 90 days to settle a ticket, so the total doesn’t reflect people who have taken their time in mailing in the $75 fine for running a red light. No points are assessed against a driver’s license when caught by the cameras.
Leavitt said the city hasn’t had any problems collecting fines.
Nationwide, 60 percent to 85 percent of the people caught by similar cameras pay the tickets, Leavitt said. Violators in Colorado Springs have far exceed that at 98.5 percent, he said.
Leavitt attributed the high payment rate to the long vetting process each suspected violation goes through before tickets are mailed.
High-definition cameras capture pictures of each vehicle that enters an intersection after the light has turned red, including the license plate and the driver’s face. A 12-second video is also recorded showing the suspected violation.
The company that supplies the cameras, American Traffic Solutions, reviews each violation to make sure the vehicle didn’t just inch into the intersection before stopping.
A week after the violation, the video is then forwarded on to one of two Colorado Springs police officers responsible for reviewing each case — zooming in on video footage to ensure that the vehicle crossed the white “hold short” line after the light turned red.
“So the ones (tickets) that actually do get sent out to the motorists we feel are pretty rock solid,” Leavitt said. He did not know how many tickets were challenged in court.
Sgt. Steve Noblitt, police spokesman, said the department will likely need a year’s worth of data to decide how effective the program has been.
But the early results, he said, are encouraging.
“We believe it’s working,” Noblitt said. “Let’s not forget the focus of the program is to change driving behaviors for the better ... and hopefully that behavior will carry over into other intersections — whether there’s photo enforcement or not.”
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