Columbus will fight to keep using red-light cameras

By Gary Seman Jr.
March 18, 2015 • ThisWeek Community News 

Columbus city officials say they plan to file a lawsuit seeking to repeal Ohio Senate Bill 342, which effectively ends the use of red-light cameras.

Public Safety Director George Speaks confirmed today, March 18, the city plans to file a lawsuit Friday, March 20, in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

Columbus joins the cities of Akron, Dayton and Toledo, which have filed similar suits in their respective counties.

At midnight Monday, March 23, 38 red-light cameras throughout Columbus are scheduled to be turned off.

Speaks said city officials will not seek a temporary restraining order, meaning the cameras will be shut down during pending court action.

He said Columbus will argue S.B. 342, passed last year with bipartisan support, violates “home rule” protection in the Ohio Constitution and puts undue financial burden on the city.

S.B. 342 requires cities and villages to deploy a police cruiser at intersections with red-light cameras, which electronically record people running red lights. Traffic violation tickets are then issued based on the cameras’ image captures.

“That is not only absurd and irrational I believe it’s unconstitutional,” Speaks said of the bill’s requirements.

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LEGISLATURE: Texas senators hope to nix red light cameras

By Stephen Green
March 13, 2015 • The Magnolia Potpourri

Texas SenateFourteen state senators, including Conroe’s Brandon Creighton, hope their bill will spell the end of red light cameras in Texas.

Creighton is one of the legislators who authored Senate Bill 1340, which completely bans red light cameras throughout the state by outlawing all forms of photo enforcement by camera.

“Not only at local level are residents having their voices heard, but also at state level,” Creighton said of his constituents. “I’m not compelled that the use of red light cameras statewide or locally is best policy. I’m going to stay consistent with that position until I am presented with a compelling argument otherwise.”

Conroe residents voted in May 2014 to remove and prohibit the systems from city limits.

State Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, issued a statement Thursday announcing the legislation, saying it will provide “liberty to the people of Texas” and that “studies have shown that these type of enforcement measures have led to an increase in car wrecks, and these measures have never been voted in favor of by the people of Texas.”

“They understand that red light cameras and all forms of traffic enforcement by camera are unwanted, unsafe, and must be outlawed in Texas,” Huffines said of the other primary authors. “This is a bipartisan issue to help protect the freedoms that are bestowed to us. … Texans are tired of being found guilty by a machine. It’s time to put a stop to these cameras.”

The Federal Highway Administration conducted a study on over 132 red light camera intersections and determined that the number of rear-end crashes went up about 15 percent. However, that same study showed that the number of “T-bone” crashes decreased by 25 percent when the cameras were installed.

The FHA said there was a “moderate aggregate.”

There are two Democrats who have signed on to the bill – Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, and Carlos Uresti, of San Antonio.

State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, chairs the Transportation Committee where the bill likely will be handled. He said as a rule of thumb, he doesn’t sign on to bills that will go through his committee, but that he is opposed to red light cameras.

“The cities were never given authority to operate red light cameras,” Nichols said. “… Cities just started doing it.”

A spokesman for State Rep. Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands, said Keough would want to prohibit the red light cameras because individuals “lose the ability to face their accuser.” State Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, said he would support the legislation “on very simple grounds that it allows us to stop this overreaching revenue stream that violates our constitutional right to face our accuser.” State Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, said he also “generally supports” the premise of the bill.

SB 1340 goes hand-in-hand with SB 340, which alters a separate section of the Texas Transportation Code outlawing the systems in general, not just the enforcement of them. SB 340, also authored by Huffines, also makes local governments liable for the costs of any complaint that comes from a citation, including attorney fees.

Voters in Houston have prohibited the systems, while The Woodlands also removed the cameras from the township. The city of Willis still has the systems, according to City Manager Hector Forestier. The Willis City Council chose to keep the contract on the system with American Traffic Solutions in December.

If the bills pass, the laws would go into effect Sept. 1.

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Editorial: Limp laws put brakes on safety

By Amarillo Globe-News Editorial Board
March 14, 2015 • Amarillo Globe-News

We’ll admit it. We have been caught running a red light by the city of Amarillo’s self-described “traffic signal safety cameras.”

It is common knowledge (then again, maybe it is not, since knowledge doesn’t seem all that common these days), that there is little, if any, consequence for motorists who choose not to pay the $75 fine. There’s really little need to break a sweat about the $25 late fee, either.

Because of the Texas Legislature, cities cannot do much as far as punishing those caught red-handed running a red light by a traffic camera.

You might (and we emphasize might) have trouble registering your vehicle depending on your county of residence, but a warrant will not be issued for your arrest and your driving record will not show any such violation.

In other words, if you don’t pay the fine, you’ll still be fine.

While it is a bit confusing that such a limp law exists in Amarillo (why have an ordinance with little penalty?), we can see more such traffic laws coming in the future, thanks to technology.

The National Coalition for Safer Roads cites numerous statistics that support the need for red-light traffic cameras, such as “red-light running” being the leading cause for urban crashes in the nation, and more than 8,700 people being killed in intersection or
intersection-related auto crashes in a year’s span.

We’re not disputing the numbers.

The question remains, though, as far as Amarillo is concerned, is why have a toothless ordinance to address this problem? That is a question for Texas, though, not necessarily the city.

If technology continues to progress (which it will), there will be more photographic solutions to traffic problems.

NCSR lists a couple, such as slapping cameras on school bus stop-arms and speed safety cameras.

As far as putting cameras on school bus stop-arms, NCSR cites a stat that indicates an estimated 13 million drivers illegally passed a school bus in 2014.

As for speed safety cameras, there are already several speed cameras on roads and highways in these parts, which flash in big yellow, blinking numbers your speed in miles per hour as you whiz by a traffic sign.

NCSR points to statistics that show speed cameras reduce injury crashes by 20 to 25 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Again, we are not disputing the numbers.

The problem is this: It is debatable how technology can address traffic problems if laws, ordinances and regulations have all the impact of the proverbial slap on the wrist.

We’d wager many Amarillo motorists who pay their $75 traffic camera fine do so because they don’t know any better. They assume there will be a price to pay if they don’t pay the fine.

However, there isn’t. And if technology is going to improve the safety of our streets and roads, then sooner or later, there will need to be a consequence for doing things like running a red light.

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Blow: Color me sold on red-light cameras

Red-light cameras have caught a lot of folks in the act, but they’ve also succeeded in changing behaviors — making people hit the brakes, not the gas
By Steve Blow
March 7, 2015 • The Dallas Morning News

Of all the innovations that have made life safer for us, I wonder which one is the most hated.

I remember lots of grumbling about seat belts in the beginning. And so many motorcyclists hated helmet laws that Texas threw out the mandate.

I’m sure construction workers still gripe about some OSHA protections. I know I’m irked at times by all the safety paraphernalia on my lawnmower.

But I’m going to bet that the least-loved lifesaving innovation is the red-light camera.

Last week, a judge in Tarrant County cleared the way for Arlington voters to decide on a ban of red-light cameras in their city. A legal challenge arose after a petition drive put the matter on the May ballot.

In Chicago, red-light cameras have emerged as a major issue in the runoff next month between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Garcia has promised he will rid the city of red-light cameras on his first day in office.

Me, I’ve always liked red-light cameras.

Many hate them down to their toenails, however. And while I’ve never understood that level of revulsion, I do get the milder forms of distaste.

There’s something a little Big Brother-ish about an automated system that catches and convicts us of our wrongdoing. It’s so cold and remote — and relentlessly effective.

The things never rest, while cops seldom seem to have the time for traffic enforcement these days.

But I guess it comes down to picking your poison. Would you rather have the irksome cameras keeping watch over us? Or would you rather turn intersections into a free-for-all?

Just last week, I easily stopped when a light ahead of me turned yellow. The car behind me whipped around and shot through the fully red light.

That’s not a common sight these days, but I can remember 10 or 15 years ago when it became rampant. When a signal light turned green for you, it was routine to see a car or two zip through the intersection on red before you could go.

That was the situation that brought red-light cameras into widespread use. And I believe the cameras succeeded in changing behaviors. People began to hit the brakes, not the gas, at yellow lights.

The debate over red-light cameras has gotten bogged down in conflicting studies over how much they increase driver safety. Some studies find that decreases in side crashes are offset by an increase in rear-end crashes.

But those tend to be minor — and they illustrate the extent of our problem. They happen when the driver of the second car has every expectation that both he and the driver ahead will blow through a changing light.

I don’t really care what the studies show. I’m satisfied with what the cameras show — and that’s people plainly, clearly, boldly driving through red lights.

That is so dangerous to my family and to yours that I would think we’d welcome almost any measure to stop it.

Another rap against red-light cameras is that they produce so much revenue for both cities and the camera companies. Again, to me that just illustrates the frequency of the violations.

Now, I’m completely sympathetic to complaints that some red-light cameras have been operated unfairly — with unusually short yellow lights, for example.

Every state should set clear regulations on how cities can use the cameras — giving a little extra yellow light time, if anything, at monitored intersections.

I don’t love the cameras. But I have visited countries where red lights are treated as suggestions and intersections become a game of chicken.

I love that even less.

Follow Steve Blow on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/DMNSteveBlow and on Twitter at @DMNSteveBlow.

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Editorial: Keep Traffic Cameras

Ohio’s misguided ban on speeding and red-light traffic cameras should be overturned.
By Blade Editorial Board
February 23, 2015 • By The Blade

Toledo officials announced last week that the city will file a lawsuit against the state of Ohio for its ban on traffic cameras set to take effect next month. The law would force Toledo to take down 44 traffic cameras that have proven to be valuable law enforcement tools. The court should strike down the state’s over-reaching law.

In last year’s lame-duck session, Gov. John Kasich signed into law a ban on the use of traffic cameras to enforce speeding and red-light violations, unless a police officer is present. The law was opposed by then-Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins, who asked the governor not to sign it, and other city leaders throughout the state. The cameras have drawn fierce criticism from many Ohioans and state lawmakers, who say that they’re abused by local law enforcement and used as revenue-raising tools.

That may be true in some communities, but not in Toledo, where the cameras have been used responsibly to enforce traffic laws in high-risk areas. According to the Toledo Police Department, a test conducted on a section of Anthony Wayne Trail showed 2,000 speed violations in a 12-hour period, but the number of speeding tickets issued that year for violations detected by the cameras was far below that rate. That suggests that the cameras are working, and that the city is exercising restraint in issuing tickets.

City Law Director Adam Loukx said the city questions the law’s constitutionality. He’s right: Ohio’s Constitution respects the authority of cities to decide how to govern themselves. If Ohio’s home-rule clause means anything, surely it should include the ability to decide how to enforce routine traffic violations. Lawmakers should not be allowed to force their constituents’ preferences on the entire state.

Used appropriately, the cameras aren’t intrinsically predatory any more than police officers are, and they can serve as cost-effective substitutes when a police officer is not available. But critics are right that law enforcement needs to use the tools at its disposal cautiously. Toledo, which raises millions of dollars from camera citations each year, must be particularly careful not to become dependent on the cameras for revenue.

Speeding tickets can cost as much as $100 — a significant price tag for most Toledoans. If the use of traffic cameras is upheld, city officials should consider reducing the per-ticket cost. The city’s spike in revenue from camera citations should enable them to do so.

Traffic cameras make all Toledo drivers safer and more likely to follow the law. Of course, a police officer’s judgment is superior to technology, but many Ohio communities — including this one — don’t have the resources to expand police staff. Unless state lawmakers plan to give back the funding they cut from local governments’ budgets during Governor Kasich’s term, they have no business legislating cities’ law enforcement tools.

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Editorial: Law will make streets less safe

By The Dispatch Editorial Board
February 22, 2015 • 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.

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Red Light Running Up 98% Since Newark Red Light Cameras Shut Off

For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Nick Juliano
(312) 768-4798
Nick@trafficsafetycoalition.com

Red Light Running Up 98% Since Newark Red Light Cameras Shut Off
New Figures of red light running violations tracked by City of Newark show dangerous trend since end of camera enforcement program

Newark, New Jersey – February 20, 2015– Dangerous red light running is up an alarming 98% at intersections where red light cameras have been for five years after being shut off in the City of Newark.  According to statistics provided to the Traffic Safety Coalition by the Newark Department of Engineering, Division of Traffic and Signals, 39,638 red light running violations were detected from January 17, 2015 through February 15, 2015 compared to just 20,007 when the cameras were in operation during the same time period the year before – an increase of 19,631 more people running a red light.

The increase in red light running during the second month cameras were turned off is nearly twice as much as it was during the first month they were off when red light running was up 56%.  Also according to data from the City of Newark, 31,494 red light running violations were detected from December 18, 2014 through January 16, 2015 compared to just 20,162 from December 18, 2013 through January 16, 2014 when the cameras were in operation.

The dramatic increase represents an alarming trend in Newark: the longer cameras are off, the more reckless drivers are becoming.

“As a mother whose daughter was killed by a red light runner, a 98% increase in red light running  is something I find very concerning because more people are now at risk since traffic safety cameras were turned off in Newark,” said Sue Oberhauser, national co-chair of the Traffic Safety Coalition, whose daughter Sarah was killed by a red light runner in 2002.  “Red light cameras reduce red light running, crashes, and save lives.”

Newark’s red light cameras were turned off on December 16, 2014, when the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT)-administered camera pilot program was ended despite the state not issuing its mandated reports on the program’s 4thand 5th years.  To measure the impact of the end of the camera program on driver behavior, the City of Newark continued to collect data at intersections formerly equipped with cameras without issuing citations.

When traffic safety cameras were in operation, Newark experienced a dramatic decrease in red light running and crashes.  Total crashes were down 83%, including an 83% reduction in rear-end crashes, at intersections where cameras were present for five years. Perhaps most significantly, the most dangerous category of accidents, right-angle or “t-boning” crashes fell 100% at those same intersections according to reports from the City of Newark’s Division of Traffic and Signals.

“[W]e [are] trying to get to zero, zero is where we want to be and the red light cameras help us get to zero,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka at a news conference on December 5, 2014 with law enforcement, other New Jersey mayors, state legislators and traffic safety advocates calling for a continuation of the program.

Legislation (A3964/S2643) has introduced by Assembly members L. Grace Spencer (D-29), Ralph Caputo (D-28) and Eliana Pintor Marin (D-29) and Senators Ronald Rice (D-28) and M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), respectively, would make New Jersey’s traffic safety camera program permanent and remove the cap restricting the number of municipalities able to participate.  The Traffic Safety Coalition and its partners support this legislation and urge lawmakers to pass it in order to keep New Jersey’s roads safe.

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About the Traffic Safety Coalition:

The Traffic Safety Coalition is funded by the traffic safety camera industry and its supporters to assist ongoing advocacy and education efforts of traffic safety experts, law enforcement, public officials, victims’ advocates, health care professionals and concerned citizens committed to making our roads and intersections safer for drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. TSC partners share a commitment to traffic safety. No TSC partner organization or individual is compensated for their involvement. The Traffic Safety Coalition is managed by Resolute Consulting, a Chicago-based public affairs firm.

The Traffic Safety Coalition received the 2011 Peter K. O’Rourke Special Achievement Award from the Governors Highway Safety Association for outstanding achievements in highway safety. Read more here.

We work with our partners throughout the country to teach drivers the importance of safe and responsible driving.  By buckling up, slowing down and obeying the rules of the road, we are working together to create a safer environment for everyone on the road.

To download the full press release, click here.

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