Local news

City Council approves cameras at stoplights

TUESDAY, MAY 8, 2007

Catching red light violators just got a lot easier in the city of Spokane.

The Spokane City Council on Monday approved rule changes allowing the city to place cameras at intersections to catch drivers who run red lights.

Once implemented, cameras likely will be installed at a few intersections with the highest crash rates, police said. That is expected to happen by the end of the year.

The council has yet to select a company to run the program.

Spokane police Sgt. Eric Olsen presented statistics showing large decreases in crashes and red light running in cities that have installed cameras. Council research assistant Todd Babcock presented opposing views and highlighted studies that have shown increases in rear-end crashes when camera programs are instituted.

Councilman Rob Crow said improved safety at intersections outweighs potential problems.

The difficulty of enforcing laws “shouldn’t be an inhibition to having them in place,” he said.

Councilman Bob Apple cast the lone vote against the proposal, saying the city should try other ways to deal with the problem, such as increasing the length of yellow lights. He also said he didn’t have faith that the city would maintain painted lines used by cameras to determine if drivers enter the intersection after the light turns red.

Based on a recent update in state law, council members amended the rules to increase ticket prices from $101 to $112.

Car owners will be sent tickets in the mail. Photos taken by the cameras and tickets won’t become part of a driver’s record.

A judge will be required to toss out tickets of anyone who testifies under oath that they were not driving the car when it ran the light.

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin asked that the issue be delayed, because Council members Al French and Mary Verner were absent.

But Councilman Brad Stark said waiting was unnecessary because it had been debated in the community “for months and months.”

After McLaughlin’s request was turned down, Stark said he didn’t support using red light cameras but would vote for them because Verner and French likely would have supported their use.

“I don’t believe in the tyranny of the minority,” he said.

Spokane resident George McGrath, who testifies at most City Council meetings, said he doubts claims that the program is driven by safety as opposed to increasing revenue.

“All I can see is another aspect of ‘Big Brother’ watching you,” he said.

But Vickie Ward, a Spokane resident who has made several presentations to the council about traffic safety, said cameras work.

Opponents “don’t want the cameras because they don’t want to get caught,” Ward said.

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