South Jersey municipalities issued more than 41,000 tickets last year to drivers caught on camera running red lights at intersections in Camden and Gloucester Counties.
Gloucester Township, one of four local towns that started the red-light-camera program in 2010, issued about 17,300 tickets between July and December. Few drivers have challenged the $85 tickets in court, officials said.
The program is a five-year effort to see if the cameras reduce violations and accidents. While results are promising, South Jersey police departments say, it's too early to gauge the program's effectiveness.
"The real test will come in the next three to six months. . . . If the violations drop and accidents drop, that's when we will know," Stratford Police Chief Ronald Morello said.
After a 30-day warning period, a camera at White Horse and Berlin Roads in Stratford, near the Lindenwold station on the High-Speed Line, started recording violators in November.
In December, Stratford issued 432 citations for drivers who ran the light in November. About 95 tickets were issued in December for violators that month, and a few hundred more violations still have to be reviewed, Morello said.
Since late 2008, the state Department of Transportation has accepted 25 towns, including Cherry Hill and Monroe Townships, into the program. The red-light cameras are operational in nine municipalities statewide, the department said.
Cherry Hill's cameras could be up and running in February, a town spokesman said.
For several years, red-light cameras have operated in cities nationwide, but with strong criticism. Proponents say the cameras decrease crashes and improve public safety, but several studies have suggested otherwise.
Opponents say the cameras are nothing more than money-making machines for municipalities and some companies, depending on the arrangement with the city. In Los Angeles, a 2010 city controller's audit found that the red-light program had not conclusively proved it increased public safety.
In New Jersey, points are not assessed for the $85 tickets. The red-light cameras identify license plates, not drivers.
Arizona-based vendors review the potential violations from the South Jersey towns. Then police review the videos for a final determination.
Police can reject violations for several reasons, such as poor video quality or plate obstruction. In Gloucester Township, police rejected 390 violations this year, officials said.
Glassboro pays American Traffic Solutions, a Phoenix-based firm, a $9,250 monthly maintenance fee, as does Gloucester County, according to the borough. Glassboro and Stratford do not pay a per-ticket fee to the vendors. It is unclear if other South Jersey towns do so. Tickets are issued for running a red light or failing to stop before making a right turn on red.
"It's really simple. Just stop when you're supposed to stop," said Glassboro Police Chief Alex Fanfarillo, whose town started issuing tickets in late March. "Everybody wins in that case."
The cameras are at the four-way intersection where Dalton Drive meets Delsea Drive in Glassboro. From March to late December, 13,053 tickets were issued for violators at the intersection, and 5,000 were rejected, Fanfarillo said.
Intersections in municipalities were chosen for frequent accidents, heavy traffic, and obstacles they pose to law enforcement.
In Gloucester Township, cameras are at four intersections on Blackwood-Clementon Road: at Erial Road, Little Gloucester Road, Millbridge Drive, and Cherrywood Drive.
Crashes dropped roughly 22 percent on Blackwood-Clementon from 2009 to 2010, in part due to the cameras, but more study is needed to measure the cameras' effectiveness, police said.
"Anything to help people drive safer, it's a win in my book," said Gloucester Township Capt. Anthony Minosse.
In Deptford, drivers paid about 8,000 of the 10,779 tickets issued between May and December, said court administrator Shannon T. Sawyer. Deptford gets $73.50 per $85 ticket, and the balance goes to the state, Sawyer said.
Close to $752,000 has been collected, with $600,000 going to Deptford, she said.
Cameras at the intersection of Route 41 and Deptford Center Road capture violators. The court gets between 100 and 200 calls a week on questions about the tickets, Sawyer said.
"A beginning argument is, 'I can turn right on red on that light,' " Sawyer said. "Which is correct. But you have to stop at the red light."
An additional 35 to 50 people challenge the tickets each month, Sawyer said. But she said most pay after viewing the video.
Glassboro recently agreed to accept written challenges from drivers who received tickets for running the light at westbound Dalton and Delsea between March 26 and Oct. 26 because of a problem at the light.
The light changed from yellow to red in three seconds - one second less than the road's 35 m.p.h. speed limit calls for. The three-second interval was based on a speed limit of 25, which the borough changed to 35 in 1993.
On Oct. 26, the state Department of Transportation corrected the timing problem after a driver alerted officials.
Borough Prosecutor Timothy W. Chell said that 15 people had submitted challenges so far but that more were expected.
The borough submitted its application for the red-light-camera program with the old speed limit of 25 m.p.h., said Joe Dee, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation.
Chell said the borough's application should have specified a 35 m.p.h. limit. But the state approved the speed-limit change in 1993 and did not change the light's timing, he said.