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Renton considers ditching some red-light cameras after police chief orders review

A red-light camera in Renton that caught the most red-light runners in the state did not accurately count crashes in 2017.

RENTON, Wash. — Renton’s police chief has ordered a full review of all seven of its red-light cameras after KING 5 uncovered a mistake in the city’s crash data at one intersection.

The red-light camera at the intersection of Benson Drive South and South Puget Drive counted more than double the number of crashes in 2017 than there actually were.

“Since this story has come out, we're going back and reviewing and verifying all the intersection data,” said Renton Police Commander Dan Figaro. “The chief of police has ordered a review of all of our red-light cameras and its impact on the community.”

Crash data is among the key factors cities consider when deciding where to place a red-light camera.

Renton previously reported there were 60 crashes at the intersection of Benson and South Puget in 2017 before the camera was installed. After the camera was installed, crashes went down to eight in 2018. However, Figaro says after reviewing the data the correct number of crashes in 2017 is 24. 

Figaro says it was an honest mistake made by a city traffic engineer that should have been caught before the number went public in their annual photo enforcement report.

RELATED: Red light runners kill 2 people per day in America

The red-light camera at Benson Drive South and South Puget Drive also caught 28,822 red-light runners in 2018, more than any other red-light camera in Washington state.

That’s almost double the next closest red-light camera in Des Moines, which issued 15,699 tickets in 2018, and more than triple the highest ticketing red-light camera in Seattle, which recorded just over 3,700 red-light runners in 2018.

Credit: KING
Red-light cameras at the intersection of Benson Drive South and South Puget Drive caught the most red-light runners in the state in 2018.

However, not all of those 28,822 drivers received tickets. Some got warnings, because they were caught during a grace period. The city couldn’t provide data on how many tickets the camera issued, because it isn’t required to track that data. It also isn’t required to track how much money it made off that particular camera.

“Is it justified to have it there, or is it just a way for the city to make money off tickets?” asked George Miller, a lifelong Renton resident. 

Miller says he loves almost everything about his hometown, but he hates the red-light camera at Benson and South Puget. He’s racked up three tickets there.

Like nearly all red-light runners at that intersection, Miller was accused of not stopping before turning right on a red. Since the one camera at Benson and South Puget points only at the three westbound South Puget lanes – two of which are right-turn lanes – drivers traveling in any other direction at that intersection won’t get a ticket.

RELATED: The 5 worst traffic spots in western Washington

Figaro says the goal of the city’s photo enforcement program is safety and driver education. He hears a lot of complaints about red-light cameras and says many right-turn drivers often don’t even realize they’ve rolled right through a red light without stopping.

“What studies show is that what curbs people’s behavior is getting a citation as opposed to a warning,” said Figaro. 

After reviewing the crash data, the Renton Police Department says it will also review whether some cameras should go away.

“We are considering possible removal of some of the cameras,” said Figaro.

The city has not yet offered a timeline for reviewing its crash data or the possible removal of any of its red-light cameras.