Are states missing point on ticket cams?

| 6/16/2011

The California Assembly voted unanimously to advance a bill that would give communities wiggle room on speed limits and yellow light intervals. One researcher says there is more to the issue here, and other states are trying to rein in use of automated enforcement cameras.

Since 2004, California law has required cities to round up their speed limits starting at the 85th percentile of travel speeds. The posted speed must be rounded to the nearest 5 mph increment.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, the bill – AB529 – would give local governments the option to round speed limits down after a traffic study. Gatto said the current setup allows speeders to dictate the limits set.

Another issue resulting from lower posted speeds is shorter yellow times. In California, the difference in yellow time on roads posted at 30 mph compared to 35 mph is 0.4 seconds less.

The issue is of particular concern in California because communities throughout the state utilize red-light cameras under the guise of increasing safety on roadways. Violations can exceed $500 with court costs.

Critics of the plan to authorize lower speeds say communities would be creating speed traps.

Truck driver and OOIDA Life Member Dave Snellings of Crofton, MD, has been researching the use of red-light cameras since the 90s. He said that when state and local governments resort to the use of automated enforcement it is not about safety. It’s about generating revenue.

“These so-called public servants are intentionally looking for ways to shake us down,” Snellings said. “They tell us it is about safety. It is totally disingenuous. If it was, they would extend the yellow time.”

He cited the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The research determined that the duration of yellow change intervals should be as long as six seconds.

Concern about ticket cameras being used as revenue generators has spurred legislative action in multiple states. Also in California is a bill is intended to help ensure that communities use red-light cameras to improve safety, not to fill coffers. One vote away from moving to the governor, the bill would regulate use of the ticket cameras by establishing statewide standards for installation and operation.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, wrote in the bill that before communities can install cameras they must show that “they system is needed at a specific location for reasons related to safety.” The provision would affect ticket systems installed after Jan. 1, 2012.

The bill, SB29, would also require local governments to better warn drivers that the cameras are in use.

Snellings said advance warning signs would virtually solve the red-light running problem in California and elsewhere.

“There are a number of ways to address this issue without using a camera,” he said.

In Tennessee, a new law also addresses concern about the photo enforcement cameras being used as revenue generators. SB1684 standardizes camera systems statewide.

Traffic studies are required to show the system is necessary. Cities also are prohibited from issuing tickets to drivers who fail to come to a complete stop when making a right turn on red. In addition, cities are blocked from issuing photo tickets for making a right turn at a red unless a sign is posted prohibiting right turns on red.

Cameras could not be located within a mile of a 10 mph drop in speed.

Communities with cameras already in place are not affected by the changes until their contracts are renewed. Also, the rule changes do not apply to mobile traffic cameras operated from vans.

Also, lawmakers in South Carolina have sent a bill to the governor to stop one community in Jasper County from posting cameras on Interstate 95 to nab speeders.

According to reports, the town of Ridgeland has issued close to 10,000 tickets since last summer. An officer is posted nearby inside an RV and the tickets are mailed to the registered owners.

The bill would outlaw speeding tickets based on photos. S336 would also require police to directly hand tickets to drivers within an hour of a violation.

Snellings said the focus on whether cameras should be used to enforce traffic rules is a distraction from a bigger problem. Instead, he said fixed-time stop lights need to be addressed. Fixed-time stop lights have predetermined light cycles every few seconds, regardless of traffic flow.

“When you approach an intersection you have a right to expect that light will not change if there is no cross traffic sitting at that intersection,” Snellings said. “All of us, whether you are driving a truck or a car, are operating at a disadvantage.”

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