Red-light cameras installed at four Seattle intersections last year have resulted in nearly 14,000 traffic citations and brought in just...

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Red-light cameras installed at four Seattle intersections last year have resulted in nearly 14,000 traffic citations and brought in just over $900,000 in revenue, according to a preliminary report to be issued today.

But their real value, the city says, is they have led to a marked drop in violations for running red lights and in the severity of traffic collisions at the intersections.

At the intersections, red-light violations dropped by a third over the course of the year, after a brief initial spike, according to the report. Weekly citations per camera went from about 90 in July 2006 to just under 60 in May.

There also was a reduction in the severity of accidents at the intersections, though only a slight drop in frequency.

The city has a total of six cameras at four high-use intersections: Northeast 45th Street and Roosevelt Way Northeast; Fairview Avenue North and Denny Way; Fifth Avenue and Spring Street; and Rainier Avenue South at South Orcas Street. Four of the cameras began working in July; the two others started in October.

As of May 31, Seattle police issued 13,966 citations based on footage from the cameras, after screening 14,672 incidents.

The resulting fines — at $101 per citation — resulted in $901,056 in revenue, which goes to the city’s general fund.

“So far, everything that we’ve looked at, from reducing the amount of injury, to the level of injury, has been successful,” Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said.

He said he wants the program to grow.

“We’ll be moving to recommend expansion to other intersections: those that have been recognized as having a higher number of accidents. We could easily do 12 to 18 more” intersections, the chief said.

A preliminary report on the program tracked the cameras’ statistics and traffic patterns over a 10-month period, through the end of May. The study found:

• In the four intersections with cameras, the number of people injured in collisions dropped to eight over the 10-month period, compared with 15 in an average 10-month period prior to the cameras’ installation. In four similar intersections with no cameras, injuries rose from 10 to 25.

• Violations were most frequent at the start, then fell steadily through January. They rose again and leveled off in April and May.

• The program was budgeted at $460,000 but only cost $320,000 in the first 11 months.

• Before cameras were installed, 86 percent of Seattle residents surveyed were in favor of the program. Unsolicited e-mails to the city from residents have been positive, often asking for cameras at specific intersections.

Mayor Greg Nickels and the City Council will decide in September whether to expand the program.

“It looks like the traffic-safety cameras are doing what they were intended to do,” Nickels said in a statement.

The 12.7-megapixel digital cameras, which the city leases from American Traffic Solutions, have built-in sensors that are activated when drivers approach an intersection.

If a driver runs the light or fails to stop completely when turning right on red, the camera snaps a photo of the car’s license plate. A police officer reviews the footage and, if it’s approved, a $101 citation is mailed to the vehicle’s registered owner.

The citations are treated as nonmoving violations, so they don’t appear on a person’s driving record.

Drivers can review still and rolling footage on a Web site. If they claim someone else was driving their car at the time they can sign an affidavit, and the ticket will be dismissed.

Jerry Stein, manager of magistrate operations at Seattle Municipal Court, said 1,659 drivers had appealed their tickets as of June 20 — about 11 percent.

“There are [fee] reductions occasionally, but generally people don’t prevail. The evidence is pretty strong with the camera,” Stein said.

More recent data, through July 9, show the city has issued a total 17,328 tickets from the cameras.

Other cities have installed cameras or are considering them, including Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Tacoma, Lacey, Spokane and Renton. More than 100 communities across the U.S. have used cameras, including Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

In San Diego, cameras have resulted in a 30 percent drop in accidents and only a slight reduction in violations, said John Hannasch, a traffic engineer with the city’s red-light program.

Critics say there are better ways to achieve safety goals. Increasing the duration of yellow lights or the amount of time all four lights at an intersection are red would be a start, said Aaron Quinn, with the National Motorists Association.

He cited one study that shows extending yellow lights by 1.5 seconds decreased violations by 96 percent.

“In most cases, the cameras are more for revenue than improving safety,” Quinn added.

Officer Dean Shirey is the program’s director in Seattle. He and a team of three other officers review between 200 and 300 cases each day.

Some cases are questionable — for example, the white van that turned right at Fifth and Spring after almost stopping. Shirey called over a colleague, and they discussed the case.

“Does that guy look like he stopped?” Shirey asked.

“No,” the other replied.

But after a year, the team has had enough practice that the review is almost mechanical. All it takes is 10 to 15 seconds to determine someone’s fate.

Or just a little longer than it takes to run a red light.

Roxana Popescu: 206-464-2112 or rpopescu@seattletimes.com