Yet despite the critics and complaints, camera use is growing overall. The New York state legislature this month approved installing speed cameras in New York City school zones. Communities with traffic cameras, or automated enforcement, have increased more than fivefold across the country in less than a decade, with red-light cameras in 530 municipalities and speeding cameras in 125, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
"There is Zeitgeist in the country right now on privacy concerns, concerns about intrusion; we understand that," said Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association, which promotes safety nationally through state-level efforts. That group and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit organization funded by auto insurers, say studies show cameras result in a reduction of fatal crashes caused by red light-running, and in reduced speeding in pedestrian-sensitive areas such as school zones.
"What we've seen from the field is red light cameras and safety cameras are both important tools in the safety tool box," Adkins said, adding that they should complement, not replace, law enforcement and should be focused on safety, not boosting budgets.
Holly Calhoun doesn't believe they were about safety in her hardscrabble village."Elmwood was just doing it because they needed money," said the manager of Elmwood Quick Mart, which offers phone cards, lottery tickets and Mexican food, and advertises its willingness to accept food stamps. "People couldn't afford those tickets," Calhoun said. "They can barely afford to pay their bills. It was pretty sad." Settled by German farmers and laborers who came up from Appalachian Kentucky, Elmwood Place was incorporated in 1890. Like many "inner-ring" American suburbs, it hit its peak many decades ago. Older residents recall bucolic times of moonlit concerts and tire swings hanging from backyard trees. But outsourcing of blue-collar work made life tougher for many residents, and the village's incomes and housing values fell well below statewide averages. Housing stock deteriorated to the point where you can buy a two-bedroom fixer-upper for less than $60,000.