Ohio nears new rules on ticket cameras

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 11/20/2014

An effort that would severely limit the ability of police to issue automated tickets in Ohio has taken a big step toward becoming reality.

Twelve states prohibit the use of speed cameras and nine states prohibit the use of red-light cameras, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Twelve states use speed cameras operating in at least one location while 24 states use red-light cameras.

The Ohio Senate voted 24-9 on Wednesday, Nov. 19, to approve a bill that would put in place strict rules on the use of red-light and speed cameras throughout the state. The vote came a few hours after the Senate State Government, Oversight and Reform Committee approved it on a 7-4 vote.

Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said changes are needed to address an enforcement tool that is “all about the money.”

His bill specifies that speeding violations could be issued only to drivers exceeding the posted limit by at least 10 mph. In addition, SB342 would require police officers to be present at red-light and speed camera sites to witness violations.

However, tickets could still be mailed to violators as long as an officer was at the scene to witness the violation.

According to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, about 250 ticket cameras are in use by at least 14 municipalities throughout the state. The annual expense to station officers at each location is estimated to be $73 million.

Opponents say the bill’s passage would be the death knell for ticketing programs. They say the expense of paying to have officers at each camera location would undermine the cameras’ cost-effectiveness.

Sen. Kevin Bacon, R-Minerva Park, said there are plenty of bad actors in Ohio who are not using the cameras properly. However, he said rules can be implemented to rein in abusers.

“We have a model, while not perfect, I think would serve as one in which (cameras) could be retained and safety standards would be maintained,” Bacon said during Senate floor discussion. “My concern in looking at this (bill) is based on what other cities have done when they removed these cameras is an increase in accidents and fatalities at the intersections in which they were removed.”

Automated ticketing has faced a lot of pushback in Ohio in recent years. Earlier this month, voters in the city of Cleveland and its suburb of Maple Heights approved ballot questions that mirror the bill’s requirement for police officers to be on the scene to hand out citations.

Seven other Ohio locales previously acted to outlaw use of the enforcement tool. Cities that have taken action are Cincinnati, Ashtabula, Chillicothe, Garfield Heights, Heath, Steubenville and South Euclid.

Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, said ticket programs are unpopular because even if studies show that problem intersections outfitted with cameras have seen a decrease in accidents, the cameras never go away.

“One of the reasons they are not popular is because they grow like amoeba, like a virus. They’re never taken down,” Tavares said.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association supports efforts to limit 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 has said the goal should be to keep traffic moving in as safe a manner as possible. He has also said that communities would be better served to pursue “intelligent traffic lights that actually monitor traffic and are triggered by traffic flow.”

SB342 next heads to the House. If approved there, it would move to Gov. John Kasich’s desk.

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