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Published: Thursday, 12/7/2006

Red-light camera restrictions pass

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - A bill significantly restricting their use as substitute police officers does not sound the death knell for traffic-enforcement cameras in Ohio, the largest player in the industry said yesterday.

With one Republican joining Democrats in opposition, the state Senate yesterday voted 20-11 to set new restrictions on cities' use of cameras for red-light enforcement and to outlaw their use for speed enforcement anywhere but in active school zones with flashing yellow lights.

But, despite the restrictions, Ohio law would for the first time recognize the use of such cameras, a move that could put a dent in litigation seeking to put an end to such programs altogether.

The House, which passed a stricter version more than a year ago, could take up the Senate changes today and send the measure to Gov. Bob Taft. A spokesman said the governor had not decided whether he would sign it.

Jay Heiler, of Redlex, the company that installed and operates cameras in Toledo, Northwood, and five other Ohio cities, said it's up to the cities to decide whether it is still practical to operate programs that rely on catching red-light runners and speeders in areas that police can't afford to patrol around the clock.

"On one hand, [senators] seem to be saying that automated enforcement can add a margin of safety and, therefore, we're going to use them in school zones," Mr. Heiler said. "On the other hand, we're not going to use them anywhere else, including other school zones that don't have yellow lights.

"It's almost as if there was a greater interest in protecting speeders than there was in protecting the kids in school zones that don't have yellow lights," he said.

But Sen. Jeffry Armbruster (R., North Ridgeville) said the bill injects balance into a system that currently slants in favor of tickets and fine collection.

"I would suggest that in the system that we have today, where there are unchecked citations being given, the average person has no choice but to pay the $100 fine," he said. "There is no defense."

Toledo, Northwood, and other Ohio cities issue civil citations to owners of vehicles whose rear license plates are caught in digital images in the middle of intersections with red lights blazing above. Owners may pay the tickets or request hearings in which they are expected to give up the real driver if they weren't driving the vehicle at the time.

The bill could circumvent that by allowing a vehicle owner to sign an affidavit stating he wasn't the driver, but without a mandate that he identify the driver. Although the bill imposes criminal penalties on those who perjure themselves, cities would be prohibited from using an image showing the driver's face to prove he's lying.

"If we really want to protect the public, then put cameras on every street corner and watch what everybody's doing," said Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland). "That looks a lot like a book called 1984."

Sen. Kevin Coughlin (R., Cuyahoga Falls) cast the sole negative Republican vote.

"I drive on my way taking my daughter to her school through a school zone where there is regularly a camera, and I can tell you it works," he said. "It works. People slow down."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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