Seeing Red

By Andrew Faught

Ever wondered who’s responsible for those cameras that nab red-light runners in the act?

If you’ve ever run a red light and been caught by a traffic cam, you may have wondered who was to blame for the blasted contraption. But you may one day thank him for saving your life.

The darling of more than a few police departments, Jim Tuton ’84, shown bottom left, is the founder and CEO of American Traffic Solutions, Inc.  Since 1987, the company has dotted the nation’s most dangerous intersections with 3,000 cameras that take snapshots of cars in the act of running red lights. Within two weeks, offending drivers find a citation in their mailbox.

Though scofflaws may not be happy to find a summons in the mail, Tuton is convinced that the nation’s “hearts and minds are already with us.” The company’s public opinion research has found that 85 percent of those polled support the use of cameras. “But when you ask the same people if they think other people support or oppose cameras, members of the majority think everybody hates it,” Tuton says.

“We’re faced with the same challenges as air bags and seatbelts when they were brought into the market. The vocal minority was very resistant.”
Tuton, considered the pioneer of camera enforcement in the United States, got the idea while traveling in Europe, where the technology is commonplace. He gave up a career in real estate and launched ATS with his brother, Adam Tuton ’86, shown bottom right, president of public safety and compliance for ATS. The Scottsdale, Arizona-based business employs 800 people there and in regional centers around the country.  The brothers installed their first camera in the Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley.

 Jim Tuton ’84 and Adam Tuton ’86
Jim Tuton ’84 and Adam Tuton ’86

“To me, it’s just obvious. You leverage technology and enable police officers
to focus on things that technology can’t do,” Jim Tuton says, adding that red-light violations are cut in half within the first year to 18 months after cameras are installed. “We have the facts on our side: crashes are reduced, violations are reduced, and safety is increased.”

Findings by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that, in 2009, red-light running killed 676 people and injured 113,000. Another study by the group found that large cities with cameras had 24 percent fewer fatal crashes than those without the technology.

Today, 326 cities in 21 states—from metropolises such as New York, Washington, DC, and Miami, to hamlets that include Capitola, California, and Red Bank, Tennessee—use the service, which identifies drivers by their license plates. ATS holds half of the domestic market share of enforcement cameras and processes 1.5 million citations every month. Drivers are cited only after police departments review photos.

“The point of the system is to get people to slow down, not to cite them,” Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Police Chief Greg Graham told the Sioux City Journal last year.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jim Tuton majored in film at Vassar. “What do I do today?” he jokes. “I take pictures. I applied it in a different way.”

He adds that Vassar has contributed to his success as a businessman. “I’m a huge proponent of a liberal arts education,” he says. “It enables you to think differently and creatively, and communicate well. Vassar gave me great foundational and contextual background, and a great set of communication skills.”

Neither of the Tutons attended business school. “This is all on-the-job training,” says Adam Tuton, who transferred to the University of Arizona after spending three years at Vassar. “I think I took one economics course at Vassar, and that’s the only one I ever took. But what we did learn is how to think, and I do a tremendous amount of reading, writing, and thinking on this job.”

The brothers are now applying their camera technology to school buses. They expect 2,000 vehicles to be outfitted by late 2013. Motorists who pass a “stop arm” at bus stops will be photographed and fined. “There’s a tremendous amount of demand and a high level of support for things that affect our children,” Adam Tuton says.  That’s a picture parents can smile about.