Red-light camera fines – where that money goes

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Red light cameras in the Triangle generate millions of dollars a year in fines and under state law – the money collected by those cameras is supposed to go to help fund schools.

But, there are fees and expenses involved.

CBS North Carolina wanted to know where does the money go and who gets what.

There’s no doubt that running a red light can cause a serious crash.

The City of Fayetteville says it averages 51 red light violations a day, a serious problem the city council wanted to address.

“If you have a T-bone type accident, there’s a high speed and impact which can create a more severe injury potential and even a fatality, says city traffic engineer Lee Jernigan.

It will cost you $100 if a Fayetteville camera catches you going through a red light. And 35 percent of that goes to the vendor.

In the last fiscal year, those fees totaled more than half a million dollars.

CBS North Carolina asked some drivers if they thought that was reasonable.

“Seems a little excessive to me,” said driver William Davis.

To figure out where the money was going, CBS North Carolina submitted a records request with the City of Fayetteville.

In the last fiscal year:

  • Drivers paid $1,499,978.10 in red light camera fines
  • The City sent the entire amount to Cumberland County Schools.
  • Then American Traffic Solutions billed the school district for its fee of $517,502.70

CBS North Carolina asked what does the city get from the vendor for its 35-percent fee.

“The cost of the infrastructure of all the equipment, all the construction, all the technology, it’s funded by the vendor itself,” Jernigan said.

So, Fayetteville did not spend any money upfront for its system.

And it expects to generate even more fines after adding five more cameras to its 10 camera system last August.

Wake County Public schools are also cashing in on red light runners.

But, drivers in Raleigh only pay a $50 dollar fine.

Even so, the program still generates over a million dollars in revenue, yet most drivers have no idea where the money from the camera fines ends up.

“I would assume construction on the roads around here,” said driver Ashley Scott. She was surprised to learn a portion of the fines goes to schools.

CBS North Carolina asked the City of Raleigh for its red light camera revenue figures for the last fiscal year.

Those numbers showed:

  • Raleigh collected $1,768,372.19 in fines.
  • Wake county schools received $993,008.67 of those fines.

So where did the rest of the money go?

  • The vendor took in a flat fee of $666,000.
  • The City of Raleigh took $109,362.52 in administrative costs.

The City says it’s pleased with the arrangement.

“This last contract is very favorable on our end because of the costs,” said senior traffic engineer Todd Edwards.

When pressed on what he meant about costs, Edwards said, “As far as the cost of the equipment. It’s no longer built into our monthly payment to them.”

Raleigh too is now looking to add more cameras to its system if City Council gives the go-ahead when the current contract ends in October.

Edwards says a third-party study of Raleigh’s red light cameras showed they’ve reduced traffic accidents by 52 percent.

Fayetteville says it hasn’t seen much of a reduction in crashes at red light camera intersections, but traffic engineer Jernigan the measure success in a different way.

“Ninety-three percent of those who receive a violation do not receive another violation. So we see that as a successful piece of the program in that we are educating more folks,” he said.

By the way, if you get stopped by a police officer for a red light violation, the fine is $100 plus court costs and three points on your insurance.

And none of those fines go to schools.

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