Missouri bills fail; would have placed limits on red-light cameras

| 5/29/2008

Multiple efforts in the Missouri General Assembly that died sought to put restrictions on cities’ use of automated cameras to ticket drivers.

The cameras, which are in use in at least two dozen Missouri towns, snap pictures of red-light runners’ or speeders’ vehicles. A ticket is mailed to the vehicles’ owners, regardless of who was driving at the time.

Supporters of the equipment said it acts as a deterrent and helps snare red-light-running drivers who otherwise might not get caught. Critics question the effectiveness of such intersection 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.

Others question the claim that cameras are solely intended to keep people safe. They said the motivation to use the technology is economics.

Among the legislation offered for consideration to restrict use of the enforcement tool were two bills that would have required municipalities to handle photo enforcement in a uniform manner.

To help guard against using the technology as a revenue enhancer, signs would have been required to be posted within 500 feet of intersections with cameras. All photo-enforcement systems would have needed to be registered with the state.

Cities using the technology would have been required to annually report information to the state, including the number of citations and total revenue collected. Cities that use the cameras include Arnold, Columbia, Florissant, St. Peters and Springfield.

One bill also would have mandated participating cities to pay a $500 fee for each light. The revenue would have been used to pay for future audits.

The combined fines and court costs would have been limited to $100.

A separate effort sought to prohibit local governments from using photo-red systems at intersections unless the traffic signal was also equipped with a device that displays the amount of time remaining before the traffic signal turns red.

Any legislation to adopt statewide standards on camera enforcement will need to wait until the 2009 regular session.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Missouri in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor