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Published: Wednesday, 1/24/2001

Not a pretty picture

It has happened to virtually every Toledo motorist. The traffic signal turns green, you edge the car into the intersection, and - VOOM! - here's some joker burning the red light on the cross street. Fortunately, most of us survive to tell about it, but a few don't. That's why we welcome the first of the Toledo police department's traffic cameras, now capturing violators photographically at Hill Avenue and Byrne Road.

Drivers who think nothing of blasting through intersections against the light - and they are legion in this city - can't say they haven't been warned. The cameras have been tested at Hill and Byrne for more than a month, and now scofflaws face a $75 ticket.

Trouble is, there are not enough of them. Disregard for red lights is a serious problem. Toledo ranks first in Ohio and 20th in the nation in traffic deaths related to red-light violations. More Toledoans die each year by motor vehicle than guns or other weapons, according to police.

Motorists have to remember that the cameras are being installed as a safety measure, not a revenue producer for the city. The company that installs and maintains the cameras will get 90 percent of the take on the first 12,000 tickets and less after that, in exchange for installing the equipment at no charge to the city.

If the new system works as planned, its greatest benefit could be a deterrent effect, as motorists citywide think twice about running a red light because they can't quite remember which intersections are equipped with cameras. Hill and Byrne was chosen to get the equipment because it is among the worst intersections in the city. Eight other intersections will follow, including Dorr Street-Secor Road and Reynolds Road-Airport Highway.

No doubt there will be complaints in the beginning from motorists caught in the act. For example, what happens when a car is trapped in an intersection by backed-up traffic while turning? But such disputes should be minimal since photographic evidence is hard to deny.

Police can't be everywhere all the time, and selective enforcement - stationing officers in patrol cars at bad intersections - is expensive and impractical. The cameras are thus a worthwhile experiment that very well may be a valuable aid for police.

Anecdotal evidence from other communities where they have been tried seems to indicate they will be successful. If that is the case here, the cameras should be installed at more of Toledo's busiest intersections. Eight is not enough.



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