Ohio town posts red-light cameras; state considers limits

| Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cameras to catch speeders and red-light runners have been recently posted at a couple of Columbus, OH, intersections. But the program could come to a screeching halt if the Ohio Legislature approves a measure that would the ban use of the automated cameras.

The first 24 days the cameras were in operation, Columbus police issued nearly 1,200 warnings to motorists, The Columbus Dispatch reported. Since April 1, police have been handing out $95 tickets.

The infractions are civil offenses. No points are assessed against drivers’ licenses.

The city’s use of the automated cameras is expected to grow. At least 10 more intersections are in the planning stages of having cameras installed.

What remains unclear, however, is whether the program in Columbus and several other cities throughout the state will be allowed to continue or be used in a limited capacity.

A bill in the state Senate would require police to prove the owner of a vehicle was behind the wheel when it was found in violation. It passed the House in May 2005.

Opponents said that provision – along with others in the bill – would make the program too expensive and would force cities to contemplate scaling back camera use. Another option would be to post more cameras to take pictures of vehicles’ interiors.

It also would prohibit using speed or red-light cameras for anything other than railroad crossing and school zone enforcement, unless a police officer was present.

Rep. Jim Raussen, R-Springdale, said he introduced the bill, in part, to alleviate concerns that the devices are being used primarily as a revenue generator for cities and other jurisdictions.

Raussen said studies have also indicated that the cameras do not reduce accidents.

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.

A provision in the bill is intended to address concerns that the cameras do more harm that good. It would require that if, after 24 months, accidents don’t decrease at intersections with the cameras, they must be removed or used only when an officer is present.

The bill – HB56 – is in the Senate Transportation Committee. It is expected to get a hearing in May.

If the bill wins support in the Senate, it would head back to the House for approval of changes before heading to Gov. Bob Taft’s desk.

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