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Smile! You're on red light camera

   After years of debate and some political strong-arming, cameras appear to be on their way to 50 intersections in Buffalo to catch red light runners.

   Is it all about public safety, or about raising revenues through the issuing of thousands of traffic tickets?

   Turns out it's both, though there is some debate about how much the cameras will really reduce the number of intersection accidents, such as T-boning (front-to-side impact) crashes.

   The critics are loud with their complaints: Big Brother taking over, letting machines do the work of cops, the ability of the city to tinker with the system to generate more tickets, and a technology that might not take into account extenuating circumstances or be too aggressive in ticketing legal, right-on-red moves by drivers.

   But, according to AAA of Western and Central New York, 70 percent of its members favor red light cameras. "We always held the view that visible law enforcement is the most effective means of deferring traffic violations. However, we recognize the potential of red light cameras to perform important enforcement functions,'' said AAA's Wally Smith.

   But as Buffalo moves to red light cameras, assuming Gov. David Paterson signs the legislation that passed last week authorizing the five-year pilot study, there are  a host of questions.

   Will the city see a drop-off in especially dangerous T-boning accidents, but a rise in rear-end collisions from drivers stopping suddenly when lights turn yellow? Will the initial rush of money from fines wear off after drivers become more aware of the intersections with the cameras, and then what will the city's reaction be? And will the cameras, as some privacy proponents fear, be used in ways that go beyond catching red-light runners?

   --- Tom Precious

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