COLUMBUS — Toledo’s pioneering speed and red-light enforcement cameras soon could be history under a bill destined for a vote in the Ohio House of Representatives.
The House Transportation, Public Safety, and Homeland Security Committee voted 9-4 on Tuesday to give the green light to a bill banning such cameras across the state. The bill could reach a full House vote this week, but the Senate is expected to recess for the summer without taking it up.
House Bill 69 stems in part from frustration over speed-enforcement cameras in the village of Elmwood Place near Cincinnati which a Hamilton County judge characterized “as a scam that the motorists can’t win.”
The bill passed the committee despite concerns raised by its chairman, state Rep. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont), that it would kill well-run programs that have proved effective. He cast one of the four negative votes.
“There’s no question in my mind — and we’ve heard from lots of public officials all across the state — that it does change drivers’ behavior,” he said. “People are stopping before making right turns in intersections, and they are slowing down.”
He said he believes the state would be better off establishing uniform standards that programs must follow to avoid a situation such as the one that in Elmwood Place, where a judge found the program doesn’t provide an adequate way for motorists to challenge tickets.
The bill, sponsored by state Reps. Ron Maag (R., Lebanon) and Dale Mallory (D., Cincinnati), could reach a full House vote as soon as today.
Mr. Maag was inspired by the Elmwood situation, but said he believes the program itself is fatally flawed.
“It’s pretty tough to confront your accuser when it’s a machine,” he said. “The other thing that I think is more problematic is that it’s a criminal offense that they’re charging civilly.”
No municipality in his district uses the cameras. He stressed that he never has received a ticket as a result of one.
Lawmakers have tried several times to ban outright or restrict the use of such cameras. In early 2007, then-Gov. Bob Taft vetoed a bill that would have restricted red-light cameras and all but outlawed speed cameras. He determined such a move stepped on the home-rule authority of cities such as Toledo.
The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld the cameras as a constitutional extension of local police powers.
Violations caught by the digital cameras are civil in nature, unlike a criminal traffic violation witnessed by a police officer, and do not result in points assessments against drivers’ licenses or reports to motorists’ insurers.
Red-light tickets are typically issued by mail to vehicle owners with photos showing the vehicle’s rear license plate as well as the vehicle’s location in the intersection with the red light shining overhead. Car owners can avoid fines if they weren’t driving their vehicles by turning in the person who was driving the vehicle at the time.
Critics charged that the cameras have less to do with public safety than raising money for cash-strapped municipalities. They told the committee that it’s difficult to offer a defense to a picture that arrives in the mail weeks after the fact, unlike a real police officer who makes a traffic stop.
Toledo was the first city in the Midwest to install such cameras 13 years ago. Today, roughly 15 municipalities including Columbus, Akron, Cleveland, and Dayton have introduced them. Northwood, in Wood County, recently allowed its cameras’ operating contract to expire, so that program no longer operates.
Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) said she would fight the bill if it reaches the Senate.
“I do hear stories from people who are unhappy about multiple citations, but then again, if you’re speeding or running red lights, then who’s to say these cameras are not doing the job they were meant to do?” she asked.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.