February 22, 2015 • By The Columbus Dispatch
Columbus drivers will need to exercise more caution at 38 busy intersections that used to be some of the city’s most dangerous— and, courtesy of the Ohio legislature, may become so again after March 23.
That’s when the city plans to stop issuing tickets from red-light cameras under a new law that requires an officer to actually be stationed at the intersections.
This mandate is so costly that it effectively serves as a ban, and a pointless one at that. The video is a far more accurate witness; it allows for review and reconsideration; and it serves as a force-multiplier, holding lawbreakers accountable even when a police officer can’t be present.
Columbus would have to pull 126 officers from neighborhood patrols and other areas to man the mounted-camera crossings around the clock. This would cost city taxpayers $15.4 million annually, the nonprofit Traffic Safety Coalition calculated.
In Cleveland, which last year had 46 cameras, the cost would be $15.1 million. And Springfield, which had 17 cameras at intersections, would need to spend $5.6 million.
As it is, taxpayers still will take a hit. The ban is expected to cost Columbus $2 million to $2.5 million in revenue from fines. Those are dollars that would have paid for a lot of road resurfacing, recreation center programs for kids and additional policing.
If the complaint was that the cameras were used in a predatory manner, as alleged in some municipalities, all the Ohio legislature had to do was to pass reasonable regulations. Columbus provided a ready model for a review process with legal guardrails.
But there is an even easier way for Ohioans to avoid a ticket. Obey existing traffic laws. Don’t blaze through a red light, and come to a full stop before turning right on red.
These are tiny delays that people, literally, can live with.
Not surprisingly, Ohioans who didn’t break the law loved these cameras. They felt protected.
In 2012, six years after Columbus installed its first red-light cameras, the number of right-angle crashes at the monitored city intersections had dropped by about 73 percent.
These cameras spared a multitude of Ohioans injuries and suffering, or, at the least, the hassles involved with car repairs.
So what happens now? Consequences have been dramatically bad in cities where the traffic-safety cameras went dark: Collisions at these intersections increased 147 percent in Houston, and speeding and red-light running jumped 584 percent in Albuquerque, N.M.
The legislature knew this. Still, it voted to take away a valuable safety tool.
Since the cameras no longer will serve to hold reckless drivers accountable, the cities affected by the ban should hold the General Assembly accountable. Municipalities should track any increase in crashes at intersections formerly calmed by the safety cameras.
If there is serious harm to Ohioans, that blame should be laid at the feet of the legislature.
And then voters should hold their elected officials accountable.