MORE encouraging evidence that red-light cameras reduce traffic crashes has turned up, this time in Ohio's capital city.
A survey of 3,920 tickets issued at three Columbus intersections over the first six months the cameras were in operation this year found that the number of motorists cited for running red lights dropped by 71 percent, and only one crash caused by a red-light runner was recorded.
Moreover, police say, motorists caught burning traffic signals rarely contest their tickets, especially when confronted with photographic evidence that leaves no doubt about their infraction.
On average, according to data compiled by the Columbus Dispatch, the light was red 2.32 seconds before the car entered the intersection. Not much longer than it takes to say "Gotcha!"
Here in Toledo, where red-light cameras have been in operation with similar success for seven years, we have no sympathy for scofflaws who claim their constitutional rights are being violated by use of the high-speed cameras.
Driving, as we've noted before, is a privilege, not a constitutional right. Motorists who cannot resist the urge to floor it when they see a yellow caution light should not be on the road, regardless of whether a law enforcement officer was present to witness the violation.
A lawsuit filed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court in July is among legal actions that challenge the constitutionality of red light cameras, and a move is afoot in the General Assembly to rein in their use.
A provision in the state legislation that would have effectively negated the use of red light cameras appears to have been removed, but the measure - amended substitute House Bill 56 - still seems too heavily tilted in favor of traffic offenders. And it would disallow the use of cameras to also catch speeders.
Running a red light is not just a simple traffic violation. The Federal Highway Administration reports that at least 854 people were killed, and 168,000 injured, in crashes caused by red light runners in 2004. In addition, a survey conducted by the agency and the American Trauma Society, found that 63 percent of Americans witness a red-light incident more than once a week. Perhaps almost as many are violators themselves.
Just as smoking once was viewed as a victimless act but now is not, the scope of law enforcement is gradually catching up to the real gravity of the act. Red-light cameras now are permitted by law in 12 states and 37 cities.
The use of such equipment is not a perfect way to deter red-light violations but their mere presence serves to remind impatient motorists that a compulsion to beat the light tempts fate and risks lives.