Nevada bills would OK red-light cameras, stricter seat-belt rule

| 3/14/2007

A couple of bills moving through the Nevada Senate are intended to make the state's roadways a little safer.

The Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee voted Tuesday, March 13, to approve a bill that would allow red-light cameras to be posted throughout the state and another bill that would permit police to pull over drivers for failure to buckle up.

Existing state law prohibits use of camera radar by law enforcement officers or agencies. The bill offered by Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, would authorize a pilot program to allow cities and counties to use photo enforcement at certain traffic signals.

The cameras snap pictures of red-light runners' vehicles and license plates. Tickets are mailed to the vehicles' owners, regardless who was driving at the time.

Supporters say the equipment 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 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.

Nolan's bill - SB61 - was amended in committee to require photos to capture images of drivers' faces instead of solely vehicle license plates. Contractors processing tickets would be prohibited from being paid based on the number of citations issued, The Associated Press reported.

Other provisions in the bill would authorize fine amounts equal to the locality's lowest parking ticket, plus the cost of operating the camera. Offenses wouldn't count against driving records or insurance rates.

Another bill offered by Nolan, SB42, that is headed to the Senate floor would allow for primary enforcement of the state's seat belt law. Currently, law enforcement officers in the state can issue seat-belt citations to drivers only after stopping a vehicle for another traffic violation, such as speeding.

Failure to buckle up would continue to be a $25 fine.

Opponents cite personal choice and the potential for racial profiling among the concerns about the stricter enforcement effort. Supporters said saving lives and the lure of federal money should be reason enough to approve the stricter rule.

If approved, Nevada would be line for a one-time $5.4 million payment from the federal government. The 2005 federal Highway Bill gives any state that adopts tougher seat-belt rules one-time grant money equal to 500 percent of the highway funding they received in 2003.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor