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Published: Wednesday, 4/24/2013

Toledo mayor testifies in Columbus that red light cameras save lives

Bell Bell
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COLUMBUS — The city of Toledo has speed and red-light cameras installed at 28 locations, which generated nearly $3 million last year, but a proposed law in Columbus could put an end to that.

Mayor Mike Bell appeared in Columbus on Tuesday to testify against a bill that would ban the use of those devices statewide.

“This is about safety,” Mayor Bell said after testifying before the Ohio House Transportation, Public Safety, and Homeland Security committee.

“The cameras are working and they are saving lives, and being a former paramedic supervisor and fire chief, I know the value of saving lives at intersections involving red lights,” the mayor said. “I was speaking from a position that none of the legislators could speak from, being a former fire chief and being at the scene of an accident where someone had been hurt or killed.”

The proposal, which has some bipartisan support, would prohibit cities, counties, townships, and the Ohio Highway Patrol from using automated traffic cameras to issue citations.

The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Ron Maag (R., Lebanon) and Rep. Dale Mallory (D., Cincinnati).

Writing in favor of the bill, Rep. Ron Hood, a Republican, said the use of red-light and speed cameras raises serious concerns regarding public safety and the Constitution.

“Nine other states have already banned the use of red-light cameras and 12 have outlawed cameras used for speeding violation,” he said in written statement earlier this month. “The right to due process, which is explicitly stated in the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, has been a cornerstone of our legal system since our nation’s founding. But as is too often the case with red-light cameras, drivers are presumed guilty and then are forced to prove their innocence. Furthermore, drivers who are cited by traffic cameras are unable to face their accuser.”

He claimed traffic cameras have not produced positive results from a public safety standpoint either.

Mayor Bell dismissed such claims.

“I thought they were saving lives when I was a firefighter before I was a chief and didn't care about money or budgets,” he said. “Ask any firefighter or police officer who has been at the site of an accident at a red light intersection involving kids and they will be able to tell you what that scene looked like.”

Toledo police Lt. Jeffrey Sulewski said speed violations dropped significantly on the Anthony Wayne Trail near the Toledo Zoo after installation of cameras in the northbound and southbound lanes.

More than 2,000 violations were recorded during a 12-hour test period before the cameras were installed. After the cameras were placed on the roadway and publicized, the city again tracked speed violations. Between Aug. 23, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2012, there were 4,933 violations, he said.

City spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei added: “When people see the cameras they change their driving behavior and that is the goal of the program.”

Toledo had 68,159 citations last year from red-light or speed cameras. Cameras at Alexis Road and Whitmer Drive captured more than any other: 12,451 speeding vehicles and 201 red-light violators.

The city took in $787,910 in 2010; just more than $1 million in 2011, and nearly $3 million in 2012. This year, the city expects to collect even more — $4.2 million for the city’s general fund.

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