Efforts to allow ‘photo red’ enforcement advance in Virginia

| 2/2/2007

The Virginia Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill this week that would allow localities throughout the state to use cameras to catch red-light runners. A state House panel has approved a similar version.

Senators voted 30-10 Monday, Jan. 29, to approve a bill that would permit counties, cities or towns to adopt ordinances to install cameras at up to 25 intersections.

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.

Sponsored by Sen. John Watkins, R-Midlothian, the bill – SB871 – now heads to the House for further consideration.

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 that they infringed on privacy rights and caused rear-end collisions.

Another Senate-approved bill – SB829 – is more limited. Sponsored by Sen. Jeannemarie Davis, R-Vienna, the bill would bring back the cameras at intersections in Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Virginia Beach, the town of Vienna and Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties. Each locality would be authorized to post cameras at up to 25 intersections.

Davis’ bill also has been forwarded to the House where similar efforts have been killed in recent sessions.

The mood about red-light cameras, however, appears to be changing in the chamber.

The House Transportation Committee voted 19-2 Thursday, Feb. 1, to approve a bill that would allow the use of cameras statewide.

Sponsored by Delegate John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, the bill would limit localities use of the cameras to one per 10,000 residents. Violators would face $50 fines.

The bill – HB1778 – now heads to the House floor for further debate.

Supporters of photo-red enforcement say 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.

“The motivation of every player in this deal is economics. Whether it’s the local jurisdiction or the manufacturer: That’s not reasonable justification for doing that,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

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.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor