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Published: Monday, 2/2/2009

Toledo police chief: Cameras cut car crashes

BY LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The way Darlene Stokes sees it, running a red light is a choice.

It's a conscious, split-second decision drivers make as they approach an intersection and one, she said, that has the potential to affect many lives.

Mrs. Stokes' father, Charles Stender, was killed 10 years ago when a dump-truck driver accelerated to avoid a red light at Reynolds Road and Bancroft Street and collided with the 75-year-old man's car, authorities said.

"Running a red light is not an accident," Mrs. Stokes said. "Running a red light is a decision you make. You decide, 'Are you going to try to beat it, or are you going to stop?'•"

The crash that killed Mr. Stender occurred about a year before red-light cameras were installed at 10 intersections throughout the city in an effort to reduce traffic collisions.

A decade later, there are 30 red-light cameras at 21 intersections in Toledo, and fewer people are running red lights, police Chief Mike Navarre said.

But despite those claims, members of a Cincinnati groupthat successfully fought the installation of red-light cameras in that city have started a petition drive to ban the cameras in Toledo.

Chief Navarre contends the cameras have reduced accidents by decreasing the number of people who run red lights.

"The most glaring proof of the effectiveness of these cameras is the fact that violations steadily decrease everywhere we have a camera," he said. "Less people running red lights is going to, in almost all cases, result in less accidents."

A traffic study conducted by Toledo police showed a 20.7 percent reduction in crashes from 2001 to 2004 at intersections with red-light cameras, compared to the average number of crashes between 1996 and 2000.

The study included all types of crashes, ranging from minor fender-benders to fatal collisions.

Accidents at most of the intersections decreased, though increases were noted at two sites.

There was a 45 percent drop in the number of crashes at Front and Main streets in East Toledo, and 35 percent fewer crashes at Reynolds and Heatherdowns Boulevard.

But crashes increased by 7 percent at Monroe Street and Secor Road after cameras were installed there, while at Dorr Street and Secor crashes increased by 4 percent.

Across Ohio, there were 241 fatal crashes and 17,811 injury crashes between 2004 and 2006 blamed on motorists running red lights.

Almost 900 people nationwide were killed and an estimated 144,000 were injured in crashes that involved red-light running in 2006, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported.

Chris Finney, a board member of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes - the Cincinnati group opposed to the cameras - said the research he has seen on red-light cameras is contrary to what police say is happening in Toledo.

He said red-light cameras are responsible for increases in accidents.

"They are trying to get more money out of our pockets," Mr. Finney said. "The motivation is not to increase safety."

Mr. Finney hopes to collect 14,000 signatures to put the issue of banning cameras before Toledo voters in November. He held an organizational meeting last month, attended by about 60 people, at the Point Place Branch Library.

Chief Navarre admitted that the group's efforts concern him.

"It passed in Cincinnati and they didn't have the cameras. I'm concerned that people who have been issued violation notices will vote for the ban," he said.

Toledo was the first Midwestern city to install red-light cameras.

Last year, the city approved a five-year agreement with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Culver City, Calif., to continue operating the cameras, many of which also have a speed-enforcement feature.

The deal increased the fines from $95 to $120 and the amount of revenue the city receives from 25 percent to 54.2 percent.

Toledo collected slightly more than $600,000 from the cameras in 2007 and revenue is expected to increase to about $2.5 million with the jump in fines.

The city issued 22,566 tickets through the cameras in 2006 and 23,595 in 2007. Ticket totals for 2008 won't be available for a few more weeks.

Citations based on camera evidence are civil complaints, for which no driver's license points or other penalties are assessed.

The cameras' constitutionality has been challenged in several courts, and judges continue to rule in favor of the devices.

Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge James Bates recently dismissed an argument that the local law allowing red-light cameras was unconstitutional or that it violated Ohio's Home Rule Amendment.

Judge Bates closed a complaint filed by William Kramer, who contested a ticket he received in October, 2006, for disregarding a red light.

The lawsuit was filed in February, 2007, seeking monetary damages, a judgment declaring the Toledo law unconstitutional, and an order prohibiting the city from continuing to issue tickets from the red-light cameras.

Mrs. Stokes, who still gets emotional when she talks about her father, said running a red light could end up being much more than a ticket and a fine.

"It isn't just getting a ticket," she said.

"It changed our lives."

Staff writer Erica Blake contributed to this report.

Contact Laren Weber at:

lweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.


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