February 1, 2011 in News, Region

Legislature takes up red light camera issue

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – Cities that want to install cameras to catch motorists who run red lights or speed through school zones would have to get voter approval under bills before the Legislature.

They might also have to make the yellow light last a bit longer at intersections with cameras or set the lights so they are red in all directions for at least a second. They wouldn’t be able to promise a share of the ticket revenue to the company that sells them the cameras.

The cameras started as a pilot project several years ago and “turned into a big problem,” Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, told the House Transportation Committee Tuesday. He proposed two bills, using different standards for setting up the system; but both would require voter approval whenever a city starts or expands a red light camera program.

The public opposes them, and if the Legislature doesn’t make changes, a statewide initiative might, Hurst said: “Fifteen states have banned these things.”

Tim Eyman, who is working on several local initiatives against traffic cameras, underscored that warning and said opposition runs from the American Civil Liberties Union to constitutional conservatives. “I have never seen a government program create so much public antipathy,” he said.

Another bill may be introduced soon simply to repeal the law that allows cities to set the cameras up.

Local law enforcement officials defended the cameras, calling them a safety tool that takes the place of a traffic cop at a dangerous intersection. They review video of cars running red lights or speeding, and reject questionable citations.

“The safety of motorists is the primary goal,” Lt. Cory Darlington of the Tacoma Police Department said. “The secondary outcome is revenue.”

But officers from Seattle, Tacoma, Lakewood and Auburn said their cities do collect revenue from the cameras, and that’s after paying the company that installed them between $4,500 and $5,000 a month per camera.

Some committee members seemed skeptical of claims that the cameras prevent accidents. They wondered if at least part of the reduction was from longer yellow lights which often accompany the cameras, or from restrictions on using cell phones in cars.


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