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Published: Thursday, 1/15/2009

Say 'no' to COAST

CINCINNATI has enough problems to keep issue advocacy groups busy for the foreseeable future. Toledo, therefore, doesn't need the help of out-of-towners to figure out how to keep its streets safe, and the self-styled Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes can go back to the Queen City and leave Toledo's red-light cameras alone.

The group, which successfully but foolishly fought the installation of red-light cameras in Cincinnati, wants to put the issue of banning red-light cameras on the November ballot in Toledo. The group's co-founder, Chris Finney, called the cameras part of "the continuing encroachment of government into the daily lives of citizens."

That's poppycock, of course, but the idea is sure to appeal to folks who drive too fast and treat red lights like caution signs, and there might even be enough of them out there to get the issue on the ballot.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, red-light running is responsible nationally for 180,000 crashes per year, resulting in 90,000 injuries and 1,000 deaths. In addition, a person is much more likely to be killed or injured as the result of a red-light violation than any other driving situation at an intersection.

Red-light cameras act as a crime deterrent in the same way as surveillance cameras in banks, convenience stores, and elsewhere. And, as Chief Mike Navarre pointed out in an interview with The Blade, they work. He said violations have declined at every intersection in the city where red-light cameras have been installed. Studies also show that red-light cameras reduce the most serious type of intersection accident: side or T-bone crashes.

The cameras also are an effective enforcement tool, in the same vein as radar employed to catch speeders and Breathalyzer tests used to convict drunk drivers. The vast majority of people, when faced with a photograph of their vehicle speeding or running a red light, simply pay their fine rather than wasting valuable court time contesting the citation.

And the automated devices allow Chief Navarre to make better use of his officers. Rather than having to keep an eye on busy intersections, the already stretched police force can focus on more serious crimes. That's becoming increasingly important as budget constraints make new police classes less likely and retirements thin the ranks of officers.

And if the city can increase revenues by catching more red-light runners, so much the better in these difficult economic times.

Enforcing traffic laws is not some cat-and-mouse game in which drivers are allowed to get away with whatever they can and using cameras is bad form because it gives police an unfair advantage. By that reasoning, cameras ought to be outlawed everywhere, but no one seems to mind when a surveillance camera identifies a bank robber.

But maybe COAST would like that too. The group was founded in 1999 by then-state Rep. Tom Brinkman, a notorious anti-everything legislator from Cincinnati, and Mr. Finney, an attorney. During his eight years in the General Assembly, Mr. Brinkman consistently led the House in "no" votes, voting in the negative nearly 700 times, often as the only "no" vote on wildly popular issues.

Toledoans can now repay his negativity by saying "no" to COAST's attempt to make city intersections more dangerous.



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