Using cameras to catch speeders and red-light runners isn’t a universally embraced use of technology. But cameras are a proven law enforcement tool that shouldn’t be outlawed just because of a few problems.
Unfortunately, state lawmakers are considering doing just that.
One proposal, which nearly passed last year, would have banned municipalities from using red-light and speed cameras except in school zones.
A new bill by Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, would likely have the same chilling effect. It would allow use of the cameras, but only when a police officer is present. For most communities, that would be impractical and unaffordable.
A better idea has been suggested by Sen. Kevin Bacon, R-Minerva Park. His bill calls for certain procedures to be established for communities who want to use traffic cameras.
The rules would include conducting a safety study at an intersection before installing cameras, installing signs at intersections where cameras are located, lengthening yellow-light times to at least one second longer than the state minimum, and having a police officer review all violations captured by a camera.
While Bacon’s proposal is a common sense approach and should get further discussion, another option may be for the state to simply stay out of the red-light camera business altogether, and allow municipalities to decide if they are right.
Several years ago, traffic cameras were considered by Findlay officials for several intersections on Tiffin Avenue and Bright Road, where police said stop-light violations and speeding were causing accidents. Officials decided not to install cameras, however, after considerable public opposition.
The effectiveness of cameras, though, can’t be overlooked.
Columbus, which issued 3,774 citations in 2013 through its 47 red-light cameras, has had a 73 percent reduction in accidents at camera intersections. Toledo has had a 39 percent reduction in fatal accidents attributed to red-light running, and Dayton has had a 35-percent reduction in crashes from running red lights.
Opponents of the cameras claim they are unconstitutional and are a money grab for the governments which operate them. It is true, the cameras bring in money. Columbus, for example, collected $2.1 million through its cameras last year.
In most cases, though, a person ticketed by a camera would pay less than if they were pulled over.
Those caught on film must pay a fine, but generally aren’t assessed points against their license. In most cases, a violator’s insurance company is also not notified.
The constitutional concerns can be addressed by giving drivers who feel they were wrongly ticketed an opportunity to challenge the fine.
There are 503 communities, including 14 in Ohio, which use cameras to catch speeders and 132 nationwide, and 11 in Ohio, which use them to catch red-light violators.
The advantages of the traffic cameras clearly outweigh the problems. While no one likes to get a ticket, lawmakers should use extreme caution before eliminating a tool that is helping make dangerous roads safer.
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