Ohio Traffic Camera Law at Center of Heated Debate

At issue is a law that took effect in March 2015 that recognized camera programs for the first time, but imposed statewide standards for local rules that cities claim make them economically impractical to continue.

by Jim Provance, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio / January 11, 2017
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

(TNS) — COLUMBUS — A lawyer for the state today sparred with members of the Ohio Supreme Court over whether its law imposing restrictions on cameras run by cities like Toledo are really aimed at overriding local policing powers.

At issue in the case, specifically involving Dayton’s red-light and speed enforcement cameras, Dayton argued that Senate Bill 342 enacted in 2015 does nothing to regulate the behavior of citizens but rather seeks to restrain how local police react to that behavior.

“We don’t have a permissive legislation for a citizen to do something here,” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor told State Solicitor Eric E. Murphy. “You have restrictive legislation to preclude a municipality from exercising home rule.”

The high court did not immediately rule. A decision on Dayton’s program is expected to also decide the fate of automated traffic cameras in Toledo and Springfield, which have appeals pending before the court, and in other cities.

Lower appellate courts have decided differently in the latest turf war between state and local powers.

“If the state can’t regulate traffic cameras, how can a state regulate, for instance, traffic control devices?” Mr. Murphy asked. “The state requires municipalities to follow the manual of uniform traffic-control devices…, the same way the state regulates police.”

The case addresses the legal question of whether the state can substitute its own police power rules for those cities enacted under their home-rule authority. The court has twice before upheld the camera programs, most recently in a narrow 4-3 decision in 2015 when upholding Toledo’s civil administrative process to hear appeals of citations.

But those decisions were in the absence of a state law that directly conflicts with city ordinances.

“This photo enforcement program has been proven to save lives,” said Dayton’s attorney John C. Musto. “It reduced red-light running accidents by 46 percent. It reduced overall accidents by 30 percent at locations where they were installed. After this program was shuttered because of restrictions by the state, red-light running drastically increased. Speed drastically increased. Traffic fatalities increased.”

At issue is a law that took effect on March 23, 2015. It recognized such camera programs for the first time, but it imposed statewide standards for local rules that the cities claim make them economically impractical to continue. That, they argue, is the real reason behind the law.

Among other things, the law requires a full-time police officer to be physically present when a red-light or speed violation is digitally captured. It requires 3-year traffic studies and 30-day public awareness programs before new cameras are installed. It limits citations to violations of 6 miles or more in excess of the speed limit in school, park, or recreation zones and 10 mph elsewhere.

“You’ve got 15 police officers around the city, and their only duty is to sit there and babysit a camera while violent crime is occurring in other aspects of a municipality -- that’s okay?” asked Chief Justice O’Connor, who served as former Gov. Bob Taft’s lieutenant governor and public safety director.

“The state had a lot of testimony about unfairness with respect to these procedures,” Mr. Murphy said. “There was a lot of debate…about whether this was about revenue versus safety…”

Unlike Dayton, which lost its case before the Second District Court of Appeals and at least temporarily halted its program, Toledo has won its case so far and has continued to operate its cameras.

Through November, Toledo collected $1.9 million in net fines from its stationary cameras, well ahead of the $1.5 million projected. The camera program is operated by Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems, which keeps a share of fines.

©2017 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.