Wash. lawmakers Wade into Red-Light Camera Debate

By | February 4, 2011

Washington lawmakers are wading into a growing debate over the use of cameras to ticket speeders and people who run red lights.

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman and local activists filed initiatives in Bellingham, Longview, Monroe and Wenatchee that would limit ticket prices and require public votes before new cameras are installed. That follows Eyman’s successful campaign in Mukilteo last fall to pass a similar initiative restricting traffic-enforcement cameras.

Traffic enforcement cameras are currently allowed at arterial intersections, railroad crossings and school speed zones, along with some pilot projects.

Camera opponents say the devices can be turned into a cash cow for governments, with fines of $100 or higher depending on the city and the violation. But recent red light camera study said they reduce federal crashes.

At a House Transportation Committee hearing, Eyman said voter opposition to camera enforcement will eventually lead to a statewide voter-initiative ban if lawmakers don’t make changes.

“Once the city gets hooked on the money, they have every incentive to maximize the number of violators,” Eyman told the House Transportation Committee. “Having a profit motive for the government to have lawbreakers incentivizes the government to create lawbreakers.”

Supporters, however, argue that traffic cameras have clearly improved safety. Bolstering that argument was a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety concluding that red-light cameras have reduced the rate of fatal crashes by 24 percent in 14 large cities that introduced them between 1996 and 2004, saving dozens of lives.

Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, is sponsoring legislation that would put local red-light camera projects up for public votes before installing them. Hurst also wants to change how fines are distributed and put limits on payments to camera vendors.

A separate bill by Rep. Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma, would expand the use of cameras to catch speeders near transit stations, public parks or recreation facilities. But her bill also would limit the use of cameras to catch speeders outside of school hours or target drivers making right turns. Ladenburg’s bill also would require local officials to conduct studies before installing traffic cameras and issue annual reports about their performance once installed.

Both lawmakers want to adopt standard yellow-light timing at traffic lights.

Topics Legislation Washington

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