By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer
If you plan on driving through red lights in Abington, you may want to at least comb your hair.
Starting on Oct. 1, red light violators on three separate intersections in the township will be photographed by automated cameras and fined $100. This comes after a two-month warning period where the cameras have been installed and violators were notified, but no fines were issued.
“Because of our low crime rate in Abington, the greatest risk of death, injury or financial loss to you and your family is actually not criminals and crime, but careless drivers and motor vehicle accidents,” Police Chief William Kelly wrote in a letter released at the time of the announcement.
The cameras were installed at the intersections of Old York Road and Susquehanna Road, Old York Road and Welsh Road and Moreland Road and Fitzwatertown Road. They were made active on Aug. 1.
These intersections are deemed to be “three of our most dangerous,” according to Kelly’s statement. This decision was based on the number of accidents, difficulty of police enforcement and total violations.
“It was with some hesitancy that I voted for the cameras,” John Spiegelman, an Abington commissioner, said. “Our police chief, Bill Kelly, really wanted an opportunity to do this the right way, and he certainly earned that opportunity.”
The reaction from the community has been mixed in regard to the cameras. “Some assumed that it was some sort of money-making apparatus for the township or PennDOT,” Spiegelman said. “Some people have been very in favor. They or their families have been deeply affected by traffic accidents, specifically at red lights.”
According to the Abington Police Department website, “a red light violation occurs when you break the stop line (solid white line where you are supposed to stop at) enter and continue through the intersection after the light has turned red.” So if a driver is fully into the intersection when a light turns red, he or she will not be fined.
Abington will not be responsible for the cost of the program and will not receive any of the revenue. Instead, the paid citations will be cycled back to recover the township costs for the program. Any leftover funds will be dispensed back to PennDOT to be used for statewide transportation grants. The contractor will absorb any losses.
August 2014 statistics from Abington’s program indicate that the total number of violations flagged by Gatso, the camera vendor, was 510 for that month. Of those violators, 135, or 26.5 percent, were Abington residents and 375, or 73.5 percent, were non-Abington residents. The total number of violations flagged by Gatso, but rejected after an Abington Police Department evaluation, was 45. If the cameras had been issuing citations in August, that would have brought the total monthly revenue to $46,500 for the three cameras.
Abington is the first suburban Philadelphia municipality to install red light cameras. After the passing of a 2012 state law, a dozen municipalities gained eligibility for the program based on crash data. Thus far, Abington is the only one to implement the program.
Currently, there are red light cameras at 27 Philadelphia intersections. According to AAA Mid-Atlantic statistics, the average cost of operation for each of these intersections is $31,847, which would require about 10.5 citations per day to cover operational costs.
But for Abington, it’s only a one-year pilot program. After a year of evaluation and more consideration, the Abington Board of Commissioners will vote on whether to continue or remove the program.
“My attitude is to look really close at the numbers and listen to folks and continue to formulate my decision,” Spiegelman said. “It’s not a wait-and-see attitude, it’s a wait-and-study attitude.”
For more information, visit www.abingtonpd.org/traffic-safety/red-light-cameras/.