Efforts would place limits on red-light cameras in Missouri

| 1/28/2008

A pair of bills in the Missouri statehouse would 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. Tickets are mailed to the vehicles’ owners, regardless of who was driving at the time.

Rep. Dr. Charles Portwood, R-Ballwin, introduced a bill that would require municipalities to handle photo enforcement in a uniform manner.

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

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

The bill also would mandate participating cities to pay a $500 fee for each light. The revenue would be used to pay for future audits.

The combined fines and court costs would be limited to $100 for tickets issued based on photos from the cameras.

A separate effort authored by Sen. Timothy Green, D-St. Louis, would prohibit local governments from using photo-red systems at intersections unless the traffic signal was also equipped with a device to display the amount of time remaining before the traffic signal turns red.

Supporters of the equipment say it acts as a deterrent and helps snare red-light-running drivers who otherwise might not get caught. But 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.

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

Portwood’s bill – HB1376 – is awaiting assignment to committee. Green’s bill – SB892 – is in the Senate Pensions, Veterans’ Affairs and General Laws Committee.

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

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor