SOMETHING is propelling state lawmakers in Columbus to restrict the practice of using cameras at busy intersections to catch red-light runners and speeders, but it's not public safety. It's clear from Toledo's own pioneering policy to install cameras at high-accident intersections that the surveillance devices work.
Four and a half years ago the city ranked first in Ohio and 20th in the nation in traffic deaths related to red-light violations. But that dubious distinction is receding thanks to the electronic law-enforcement devices silently snapping pictures of vehicle license plates that appear in an intersection after the light has turned red.
At several of the original intersections equipped with red-light cameras, the average number of accidents is down significantly compared to prior to their installation. As awareness of the cameras increases, so does driver compliance with the law, lowering the incidence of red-light running and related crashes.
That safety dividend alone should have lawmakers looking to duplicate Toledo's success elsewhere instead of debating how to stop it. But House-passed legislation now before the Senate would effectively end red-light cameras by requiring that police be present at the intersections to witness violations caught on camera and hand-deliver tickets to drivers. That's absurd.
Why dismantle the success story of Toledo and other cities? The conundrum appears to be over the appropriateness of municipal revenue windfalls from camera-initiated citations.
Indeed cash-starved cities do receive welcome revenue from the red-light cameras. The company that installs and operates the cameras for no charge earns 75 percent of the fines and the city keeps the rest. Toledo made $279,700 from the fines last year.
Cities that have to make the most efficient use of their limited police departments seized the traffic cameras as a way to cover a crucial enforcement gap and improve traffic safety. Call them tools of the trade, like police radar to nab speeders, or Breathalyzer tests to convict drunken drivers.
Certainly statewide standards governing the installment and operation of red-light cameras might simplify matters among local communities where rules differ on how vehicles are photographed and violations determined. But occasional complaints that somebody other than the owner of the vehicle was the actual violator hardly warrant throwing out the program.
For the Senate to consider intervening in how cities raise and spend ticket revenues is as crazy as the House forcing police to baby-sit cameras at accident-prone intersections before authorizing their use.
Public safety trumps concerns that cities are making too much money from the devices. If cities are collecting big bucks with the help of these cameras, motorists have a remedy.
They can stop running red lights.
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