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Published: Tuesday, 9/25/2007

Eye on red-light runners

PUBLIC safety, not constitutional quibbling, should be what decides the dispute over traffic cameras now before the Ohio Supreme Court.

The high court is considering an Akron case but its outcome could affect similar programs operating throughout the state that are intended to protect the traveling public from red-light runners and speeders.

Toledo was the first Ohio city to install red-light cameras six years ago and since has expanded their use to more targeted areas along with fixed and portable cameras at other intersections and in school zones.

Frequently, supporters stress, the mere presence of the devices is enough to reduce the number of serious accidents. When drivers know their vehicles are being photographed, they're more apt to follow the rules to avoid civil citations - and that makes everyone safer.

But persistent opponents have denounced the cameras as everything from money-making machines for cash-strapped cities to an intrusive form of Big Brotherism.

In the Akron case, use of the cameras is cited as an abuse of home-rule authority under the Ohio Constitution. Lawyer Warner Mendenhall, whose wife was caught speeding in a school zone, argued that the constitution does not allow cities to issue civil fines for what constitutes criminal conduct.

Akron officials countered that the program is simply a tool for law enforcement to use in curbing violations that police can't personally witness but a camera can. An act of breaking the law has still occurred, they told the court, and modern technology merely gives the city a way to respond.

Supporters maintain that there is no general law forbidding a municipality from catching scofflaws with a camera. The complaint that cities make money from fines levied against traffic violators photographed running a red light or speeding is beside the point.

Toledo does gain revenue from fines collected, with a portion going to the makers of the cameras that install and maintain them but that doesn't make them unconstitutional. As we have said before, if the electronic devices allow the police department to use its officers more efficiently and effectively in traffic enforcement, it makes sense to use them.

No one enjoys the prospect of being nabbed for breaking the law, especially by a clandestine camera, but motorists have been fully forewarned of the consequences. We hope the court will agree and put the matter to rest.



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