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Heads up at those red lights: Cameras will soon be reactivated in Sacramento County

If you ran a red light in the last few months at some of Sacramento County’s busiest intersections, chances are you weren’t caught on camera.

Since January of this year, the county’s vendor for red light photo enforcement program, Conduent, wasn’t operating cameras because the company failed to acquire proper permits. After negotiations broke down to fix the situation, the county terminated the contract in May.

In light of that, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a new $1.7 million contract with Redflex Traffic Systems to get the county’s 25 red-light camera enforcement sites located at 23 intersections back up and running.

The county had a contract with Redflex for a decade for red light photo enforcement, starting in 2008 and ending in December last year. The county had switched vendors after Conduent received a higher score from California Highway Patrol and Sheriff’s Office representatives during a bidding process for a new contract.

Conduent “strongly disagrees” with the decision by the county to end the contract and “communicated our viewpoint” to officials, according to spokesman Neil Franz.

“We met our obligations and do not believe there is a basis for voiding the contract,” Franz said in an email.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office is “confident” that because of Redflex’s existing wiring and infrastructure in the county, the company will be able to get cameras back in operation within 30 days of the new contract, according to county staff reports.

Redflex, an Arizona-based company, was ensnared in controversy in 2013 after after an internal investigation found company representatives had given gifts and money to city officials overseeing Chicago’s red light camera program. Four top executives resigned in light of the allegations.

Sacramento County officials at the time reviewing whether to re-up Redflex’s contract said they were satisfied the company had sufficiently cleared house, and approved keeping Redflex on as a vendor.

Red-light cameras were first installed by the county in 2009. Since then, the number of collisions reported at the 23 intersections has dropped dramatically — from a combined 541 collisions in 2008 to 40 in 2017, according to county staff.

However, several studies have suggested that red light camera tickets don’t necessarily make driving safer.

The Chicago Tribune found in 2014 that in the nation’s largest camera program, the photo enforcement program actually coincided with an increase in rear-end collisions. A study in 2017 reviewing similar programs in three large Texas cities over a 12-year-period concluded that there was no evidence the red light cameras improve public safety.

The National Motorists Association opposes the use of red light cameras, advocating for other remedies such as longer yellow lights and larger traffic lights with metal backers that can cut down on glare.

The county’s red light program is estimated to generate annual revenue of about $2.1 million, based on an estimate that half of the roughly 16,460 citations filed each year that are not dismissed by the court are paid in a timely manner.

This story was updated Aug. 22, 2019, with a statement from red light camera system company Conduent.

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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