The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Community News Network

February 27, 2014

Red-light cameras click less as towns get Orwell off roads

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"The states that have had the courage to use cameras in the face of opposition of a vocal minority are saving lives," he said.

Courage aside, the debate is complicated by conflicting safety claims. In Florida, the legislative study found that while fatal crashes decreased at intersections on state roads with cameras, other collisions increased.

The same study found that camera revenue in 79 jurisdictions soared 215 percent in the past three fiscal years, to $119 million. Individual fines are $158, nearly half of which goes to pay camera vendors, the study said. Critics say the results don't justify the money cities collect from residents or the privacy that is taken away.

"It's a back-door tax increase," said State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg and a sponsor of a bill to ban the cameras.

The issue is the way ordinances are enforced, said Charles Territo, spokesman for Tempe, Ariz.-based American Traffic Solutions Inc., which has the camera contract with St. Louis and, formerly, Brick Township.

"There isn't a court yet that has ruled the use of the cameras is illegal," Territo said.

The Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that ordinances are unconstitutional because they presume a vehicle's registered owner was driving the car photographed. The law effectively forces owners to prove they weren't driving when ticketed, the court said.

Opponents also say the claim of protecting traffic safety is undermined because the city doesn't count violations toward the loss of a license. Theoretically, said St. Louis lawyer Ryan Keane, someone could blow through 100 red lights and still be driving. Keane successfully argued against a red-light camera law in the suburb of Arnold.

"On a gut level they are fundamentally abhorrent," he said. "It's a system being abused."

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