COUNTY OF ALBEMARLE
Traffic Light Signal Monitoring Systems (“Photo Red Systems”)
Set a public hearing to consider the adoption of an ordinance to implement Traffic Light Signal Monitoring Systems.
Messrs. Tucker, Elliot, Davis, Miller, Allen, Chiarappa and Ms. Kim
LEGAL REVIEW: Yes
July 8, 2009
ACTION: X INFORMATION:
In 2007, the General Assembly enacted Virginia Code §15.2-968.1, permitting localities to establish, by ordinance, traffic light signal monitoring systems (“Photo Red systems”). Localities may install a Photo Red system at one intersection per 10,000 residents upon completing traffic safety engineering studies and obtaining approval from the Virginia Department of Transportation (“VDOT”). Under this statute, the County may install up to nine Photo Red systems at approved traffic signal intersections.
Responding to Board member interest in Photo Red systems, the Police Department began researching Photo Red ordinances, vendors, and agency administrative procedures in 2007. In the spring of 2009, the City of Virginia Beach became the first Virginia locality to begin implementing a photo-monitoring system pursuant to this new legislation. VDOT also finalized its administrative procedures and forms for intersection approval in 2008.
On June 3, 2009, the Board approved staff’s recommendation to move forward with the program and directed staff to prepare an ordinance and analyze the cost of implementing the program, as well as the staff time that would be required to manage the program.
Goal: 1. Enhance the Quality of Life for all Albemarle County Residents.
Goal: 2. Effectively Manage the County’s Growth and Development.
Photo Red Programs Throughout Virginia
According to VDOT’s website, motorists driving through red lights caused over 5,000 accidents in Virginia in 2004, including 26 fatalities and over 3,600 injuries. Localities such as Newport News, Richmond, Fairfax City and County, Arlington and James City have taken steps to implement Photo Red programs in an effort to reduce accidents caused by red light violators.
Photo Red systems permit law-enforcement agencies to improve their deterrence and enforcement of red light violations without assigning more officers to on-site traffic enforcement. Traditional traffic enforcement at busy intersections often proves difficult, due to the limited areas in which officers may position patrol vehicles to safely observe violations and quickly navigate heavy traffic to apprehend a violator.
Virginia Code Requirements for Photo Red Programs
Virginia appears to be unique in requiring that motorists be provided a 0.5 second grace period between the time the signal turns red and the time the first violation is recorded. According to one Photo Red vendor, the photo would be taken at 0.6 seconds after the light has turned red. Other states require grace periods of less than 0.5 seconds. Another important feature of the Virginia Photo Red statute is that only a sworn law-enforcement officer may certify that a motorist committed a red light violation for the purpose of issuing a summons.
In addition, the Photo Red statute requires that localities notify each red light violator: (1) that the recordings of the violation will be available for the motorist’s inspection for at least 60 business days before a court date; and (2) how to contest a summons by filing an affidavit. Once the motorist files an affidavit denying that he or she operated the vehicle, the law-enforcement agency must prove in court that the motorist committed the violation. The statute does not give law-enforcement agencies the authority to require the motorist to state who operated the vehicle at the time of the violation. Finally, the maximum penalty that may be imposed is a civil penalty of $50. More detailed information concerning the enforcement process may be found in the statute attached as Attachment A.
To implement a Photo Red program, a locality must complete the following for submission to VDOT for its approval:
1. A list of proposed intersections for inclusion in the Photo Red system.
2. An engineering study for each proposed intersection by a licensed professional engineer (can be the County Engineer).
3. A crash and traffic signal violations data report setting forth statistics for the previous three years, including the number of traffic signal violations, and how many crashes involved a traffic signal violation for each proposed intersection.
4. A current 48-hour study of traffic signal violations for each proposed intersection.
Should the Board decide to adopt a Photo Red ordinance, the County must implement a public awareness campaign regarding the proposed Photo Red program. Signs notifying motorists about Photo Red-controlled intersections must be placed within 500 feet of the intersection approach.
Police Department staff has:
1. identified the following three intersections as top priority for inclusion in the system: Rio & Seminole Trail (Route 29); the County portion of Hydraulic Road & Seminole Trail (Route 29); and Richmond Road & Stony Point Road
2. worked with the County Attorney’s Office to prepare a draft ordinance for the enforcement of traffic signal violations utilizing the Photo Red System;
3. developed plans to complete the required reports and studies;
4. attended a training seminar in the City of Virginia Beach; and
5. reviewed several Photo Red product presentations by potential vendors.
In the spring of 2009, Virginia Beach began implementing a fully operational Photo Red system at several intersections. The entire process, including obtaining VDOT approval and camera installation, took approximately one year. Four other localities (the Cities of Newport News, Richmond and Fairfax and the County of Fairfax) have issued a Notice of Decision to award a vendor with a Photo Red contract and are in the process of having their Photo Red systems installed. Staff is reviewing an open contract that the City of Newport News has awarded to a Photo Red vendor to determine whether the County could contract with that vendor through cooperative procurement. Should an ordinance be adopted, staff will conclude its analysis of proposed intersections for the Photo Red program, contract with a Photo Red system vendor and obtain VDOT approvals to begin implementing the Photo Red program at selected intersections as soon as practical.
Impact on ACPD Staff:
Several variables make it difficult to estimate the impact this program would have on ACPD staff. The Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) currently has one full-time sworn supervisor, one full-time sworn officer, and two retired certified officers who manage their Photo Red program. The two retirees, who work 32 hours a week, are responsible for validating the violations, managing the appeal process and attending court if needed. ACPD could evaluate VBPD’s procedures to ascertain if a similar staffing approach would be feasible for the County. It should be noted, however, that Virginia Beach’s Photo Red program, which is authorized to include 43 intersections, is much larger than any program the County might undertake.
How Does It Work?
The enforcement cameras are active only during the red cycle of the traffic light. Only vehicles entering the intersection after the light has turned red are captured on film. The cameras are wired to the traffic lights using sensors buried in the roadway surface. Vehicles that cross the sensors after the light has turned red are recorded by the video during the violation. The vehicle is also photographed prior to entering the intersection. A second photo is taken as a close-up of the vehicle’s license plate. A third photo is taken showing the vehicle proceeding through the intersection. These records of the violation serve as evidence to support the imposition of a $50 civil penalty.
Staff research indicates that a typical Photo Red program costs more than $100, 000.00 for camera system installation, maintenance, and monitoring. If the County were to contract with the vendor used by Newport News, the County would incur no upfront or camera system installation costs, but would be billed a fixed, monthly fee. Staff would determine, in advance of entering into a contract, whether the penalties collected from selected intersections would be sufficient to defray that monthly fee and any additional staff costs incurred for the program. The Newport News vendor would be able to provide some information, based on the experiences of other localities, as to whether the selected intersections would likely yield enough violations to make the program cost-neutral. Under no circumstances, though, would the Photo Red program vendor receive payment on a per ticket basis. It is not anticipated that Albemarle County tax payers and safe drivers will absorb any of the cost of the automated systems. It is anticipated that revenue generated by the civil fines will pay for the program.
Staff recommends that the Board set a public hearing on August 5, 2009 to receive public comment and to consider adoption of the attached ordinance.
A – Virginia Code §15.2-968.1
B – Proposed Ordinance
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