States tackle ticket camera rules

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/5/2012

Automated cameras used to ticket drivers for running red lights and for speeding are getting a lot of attention at statehouses from coast to coast.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 21 states have laws permitting at least one type of automated enforcement. And 10 states have acted to prohibit use of the enforcement tool.

The Missouri Senate approved a bill to force the state Department of Transportation to establish minimum yellow light change intervals for traffic signals. SB611 has moved to the House.

Sponsored by Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, the bill would require yellow standards to be set in accordance with nationally recognized engineering standards. The standards specify times somewhere between three and six seconds – depending on such factors as the grade of the road and the speed limit.

The effort is intended to prevent communities from using the technology as a revenue generator.

Jamey Murphy, Lembke’s chief of staff, said the city of Arnold – located south of St. Louis – was forced by MoDOT to adopt the federal guidelines after installing red-light cameras and then using its own shortened yellow-light formula.

“We’re putting a floor in so you can’t shorten them. But we allow engineers to lengthen them, if they feel comfortable,” Murphy told “Land Line Now.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports efforts to rein in use of ticket cameras. OOIDA officials say the focus on the revenue-generating devices ignores the more logical and reasoned approach to roads and traffic.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said the goal should be to keep traffic moving in as safe a manner as possible. He also said that communities would be better served to pursue “intelligent traffic lights that actually monitor traffic and are triggered by traffic flow.”

Ticket cameras are a hot topic of debate all over the map.

A similar effort in Washington state is nearing completion of its trek through the Legislature. The Senate voted unanimously to standardize use of ticket cameras throughout the state. Communities with cameras would also be required to prepare annual reports on how many crashes occur in intersections rigged with the devices and how many tickets are issued for each camera.

The bill – SB5188 – includes a requirement for yellow-light times to match federal standards. House lawmakers must sign off on changes before the bill moves to the governor’s desk.

On the opposite coast, a Maryland bill calls for limiting use of speed cameras in highway work zones for when workers are on the job. A 2009 law allows speed cameras to be posted in highway construction zones where the speed limit is at least 45 mph.

In nearby New Jersey, two bills cover automated enforcement. The first bill would authorize speed cameras to be posted in highway work zones. The other bill would outlaw use of red-light cameras throughout the state.

An Alabama lawmaker is trying to ward off the implementation of a ticket program in his state. The city of Tuscaloosa is set to install red-light cameras in the months ahead.

If approved, HB221 would prohibit municipalities from approving the use of cameras and would repeal any existing ordinances authorizing their use.

While various states look to curb or at a minimum rein in the use of the revenue generator, an effort is underway in Connecticut to authorize use of red-light cameras.

Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, is leading a push to allow cities with 60,000 or more people to use the technology. The state would get 30 percent of the revenue while the community would keep the rest.

“Knowing that if you run a red light you will receive a ticket in the mail will be a huge incentive for drivers to slow down and think twice about breaking the law,” Looney said in a recent statement. “It will free up police resources and save lives.”

Gov. Dan Malloy also supports use of the technology.

Meanwhile, a Colorado bill to ban red-light cameras was killed.

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, said cities should be focused on improving safety, not on generating more revenue.

“Citizens overwhelmingly do not want big government using cameras. It’s too bad we could not move the bill forward,” Renfroe said in a statement.

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Staff Reporter Reed Black contributed to this report

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