‘Photo red’ enforcement OK’d by Virginia governor

| 4/18/2007

Gov. Tim Kaine has signed a bill into law allowing localities throughout the state to use cameras to catch red-light runners. The new rule takes effect July 1.

The photo-monitoring systems snap pictures of vehicles approaching intersections and another image while vehicles are in intersections. Tickets are mailed to vehicle owners, regardless who was driving at the time.

The bill’s passage marks the return appearance for the cameras in some parts of the state. After 10 years of use in Virginia Beach and six Northern Virginia localities, the General Assembly pulled the plug on pilot programs allowing “photo-red” enforcement in July 2005. Critics of the cameras argued at the time that they infringed on privacy rights and caused rear-end collisions.

The new law, previously HB1778, permits counties, cities or towns statewide to adopt ordinances to install cameras at intersections. It limits localities use of the cameras to one per 10,000 residents. Violators would face $50 fines. No demerit points would be tacked on to drivers’ licenses.

It also requires that localities post signs within 500 feet of intersections with cameras.

Kaine said he agrees with supporters of photo-red enforcement that it encourages compliance with the law and saves lives by reducing collisions. Opponents question the claim that cameras are solely intended to keep people safe, saying that they are also revenue generators for local governments.

Others question the effectiveness of such cameras, arguing they have the potential to distract drivers and cause more fender-bender accidents.

In fact, a study paid for by the U.S. Department of Transportation showed rear-end crashes actually increased in cities with red-light cameras, as motorists stopped abruptly at yellow lights to avoid tickets.

Evidence that the cameras might do more harm than good hasn’t stopped lawmakers in other states from seeking adoption of rules allowing similar automated enforcement cameras.

Among the states looking into adding the cameras are Hawaii, New Jersey, South Carolina and Wyoming. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Georgia, Missouri and Texas are considering placing restrictions on the cameras’ use.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor