American Traffic Solutions

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American Traffic Solutions (ATS) is a U.S.-based firm that produces red-light cameras and other traffic safety technologies. Though the efficacy of their products is questionable, municipal governments across the United States have contracted with ATS to implement its technologies. As of 2011, ATS has contracts with 275 governmental bodies, and supplies 40% of automated traffic law enforcement systems throughout the United States. [1] ATS is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council

ATS is a member of ALEC's Public Safety and Elections Task Force,[2] but on April 13, 2012, ATS announced that it would not renew its ALEC membership in June 2012.[3]

Andrew Schauder, former Director of the ALEC Federal Forum, currently serves as a lobbyist for ATS.[4] At the 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Mr. Schauder gave a presentation to the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force on "ALEC and Automated Enforcement Devices" with Ms. Alexis Tameron of ATS.[2]

At the April 2011 Spring Task Force Summit, George J. Hittner of ATS and former Florida Rep. Ron Reagan of ATS front group National Coalition for Safer Roads gave a presentation called "Photo Enforcement: Innovative Solutions for Enhancing Road Safety, Preventing Injuries, and Saving Lives." Mr. Schauder was also in attendance.[2]

About ALEC
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.


Front Groups

In order to garner greater acceptance for its technologies by the public, ATS has created front groups to advocate on its behalf. The National Coalition for Safer Roads, for instance, was created by and receives funding from ATS. ATS has created similar groups in other states, such as the Missouri Families for Safer Roads and Keep Houston Safe. Keep Houston Safe spent $1.5 million on a public relations campaign to defend the contract ATS has established with the city of Houston, which was threatened by a ballot initiative that demanded the camera enforcement program be terminated. [1]

Connections to Goldman Sachs

In September 2008, Goldman Sachs invested millions of dollars in ATS, which coincided with a $5 billion investment by Berkshire Hathaway, the parent company of Geico, in Goldman Sachs. The investment by Goldman Sachs was intended to "bankroll an accelerated deployment of photo ticketing programs around the country." This would benefit Geico because every "time a camera operated by ATS issues a speed camera or red light camera ticket...that driver's insurance rates will increase. That means ticket recipients who happen to be Geico customers will pay millions in increased insurance premiums."[5]

Controversy in Houston

ATS signed a contract with the city of Houston in 2006 that had been responsible for the collection of $44 million in fines until 2010. A ballot initiative was launched in 2010 to try to end the program, which was successfully adopted in November 2010. However, following legal challenges initiated by ATS, a federal judge ruled that the ballot initiative was invalid. The city was compelled to restart the program because it could not afford to pay the $18 million that ATS demanded for the city to buy out of the contract. After the city council once again opted to end the program, ATS increased its demand to $25 million. The dispute between Houston and ATS is ongoing. [1]

How ATS products work

ATS provides the following description of how its intersection safety technology works:

"A single Axsis™ RLC-300 Intersection Safety Camera captures two high-resolution images from the rear of the vehicle using our 16 megapixel camera. The first image shows the vehicle with the front wheels behind the stop bar and the illuminated red light, and the second image shows the vehicle in the intersection with the rear wheels past the stop bar and an illuminated red light. These two images contain all the information needed to prosecute a red-light violation, including a clear image of the license plate, extracted from one of the actual violation images—only our single camera system can extract a plate from the completion photo if the initial plate is blocked." [6]

According to research by the U.S. Public Interest Research group, the relationship between local law enforcement agencies and traffic safety device manufacturing companies like ATS is usually as follows:

"The systems typically submit evidence of any violations to the camera vendor, which then sends proposed tickets to local authorities for approval. The vendor then typically mails a ticket to the registered owner of the vehicle, after obtaining the address from a Department of Motor Vehicles Database." [1]

Questionable Effectiveness of Red Light Cameras

Many studies of the impact of red-light cameras on accidents suggest that the red-light cameras have either a minimal or negative impact on public safety. A study conducted by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) in 2007 found that red-light cameras were associated with a 29% increase in total crashes and an 18% increase in "the frequency of injury crashes." [7] A University of South Florida from 2008 similarly found that "Comprehensive studies conclude cameras actually increase crashes and injuries." It suggests that a possible reason for this result is that "increased rear-end crashes...may occur as drivers attempt to stop abruptly in order to avoid a ticket." [8]

Plate Pass

ATS has an arrangement with Hertz to deal with tolls paid by Hertz car renters called Plate Pass. Each car is outfitted with a transponder that allows Hertz customers to pass through high-speed toll lanes without having to pay cash. The service has expanded so that now ATS also handles all traffic citations incurred by Hertz customers, for which it charges each customer a $30 fee. In order to allow ATS to provide this service, Hertz must share the credit card information of customers with ATS, often unbeknownst to consumers, which has created significant concerns about customer privacy. [9]

Campaign Contributions and Lobbying

Between 2006 and 2011, American Traffic Solutions gave nearly $240,000 to candidates for state office. In addition, ATS has spent over $1.3 million in efforts to lobby state and municipal governments. [1]

Much of ATS's political activity has been concentrated in Florida, where they have 65 contracts in place. Though the Attorney General ruled in 2005 that municipalities were prohibited from passing ordinances that conflicted with state traffic code, many municipalities still maintained contracts with ATS. According to state law, a police officer had to be be present and had to have witnessed a violation in order to issue a ticket, so ATS systems red-light camera systems were effectively banned under state law. This resulted in a Miami-Dade County Circuit Court judge ruling in February 2010 that tickets issued from the red light camera systems operated by ATS in Florida were invalid.[10]

Lawyers for the municipal governments appealed the decision, but legislation that was adopted shortly after the ruling overturned the Attorney General's rule. ATS and other camera vendors successfully lobbied in May 2010 for the passage of of a bill that "authorized the use of privatized traffic law enforcement systems." To promote the bill, AS had hired "as many as 17 lobbyists to work in the state capitol, and nearly another two dozen to work at the city and county levels." [1]

ATS's lobbying efforts have enjoyed more recent success as well. In 2011 the Florida state legislature "defeated an effort to ban red-light camera systems and killed a bill that would have required municipalities to adopt long yellow light times to increase intersection safety- reducing the revenue potential of camera systems. [1]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead: The Risks of Privatizing Traffic Law Enforcement and How to Protect the Public Travis Madsen and Phineas Baxandall, U.S. PIRG, October 2011, accessed November 3, 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 American Legislative Exchange Council, "Public Safety and Elections Task Force Meeting," agenda and meeting materials, August 4, 2011, on file with CMD
  3. Jeremy Duda, American Traffic Solutions leaving ALEC, joining APS, Arizona Capitol Times, April 13, 2012
  4. Ashcroft Group, Andrew Schauder, firm biography, accessed September 19, 2011
  5. Goldman Sachs to Raise Automobile Insurance Rates theNewspaper.com: A journal on the politics of driving, September 28, 2008, accessed November 3, 2011
  6. Intersection Safety Camera Solutions American Traffic Solutions Website, accessed November 4,2011
  7. The Impact of Red Light Cameras (Photo-Red Enforcement) on Crashes in Vrginia Virginia Transportation Research Council, June 2007
  8. Red Light Running Cameras: Would Crahes, Injuries and Automobile Insurance Rates Increase If They Are Used in Florida? Barbara Langland-Orban, Etienne E. Pracht, John T. Large, Florida Public Health Review, 2008
  9. Turning in rental car customers on the sly: Part II Abby Wisse Schachter, New York Post, July 19, 2010, accessed November 4, 2011
  10. Florida Court Rules Red Light Cameras Illegal the Newspaper.com: A Journal of Politics and Driving, February 23, 2010, accessed November 4, 2011