Some Missouri lawmakers are supporting a bill that would ban the use of red light cameras in the state just weeks after a study was released suggesting that cameras save lives. Similar measures also are being considered in other state and local governments across the country.
The red light camera study released last month, conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a nonprofit organization funded by auto insurers, found that cameras placed in 14 large cities saw a 24 percent decrease in fatal red light crashes. If red light cameras had been installed in the 99 largest U.S. cities from 2004 to 2008, 815 deaths would have been prevented, the study reported.
However, Missouri bill sponsor Sen. Jim Lembke said he doesn’t want to discuss whether the cameras save lives or whether or not they raise money.
“My concern is the red light camera enforcement conflicts with state statute. I have real constitutional problems with the way it’s carried out,” said Lembke.
Local municipalities are overstepping their legal bounds and creating laws that violate basic constitutional conventions, Lembke said.
“When you look at the actual premise, it’s on the legal presumption that the owner of the vehicle is the one driving,” he said. “That’s unconstitutional on its face.”
Missouri isn’t the only place where the red light camera debate has highlighted how state and local agendas sometimes conflict. In Florida, cities are lining up against proposed legislation that would ban the cameras statewide.
“It's not about the money for us,” Casey Cook, a Florida League of Cities lobbyist, told Tallahassee.com. Some cities report that they’ve generated thousands of dollars in revenue from traffic tickets. “Some cities have come out and they’re breaking even on this. This is about making their cities safer.”
The debate hasn’t put only states and locals at odds. In Illinois, DuPage County and the city of Naperville have put the kibosh on red light cameras where city and county roads meet because of complications of how the revenue would be shared.
Advocates of the cameras, such as Russ Rader, vice president of communications for the IIHS, suggested that rather than banning the cameras altogether, states should create legislation that enables government to enforce the use of cameras in an acceptable manner.
For example, in Virginia, Rep. Scott Lingamfelter is heading a bill that if passed, will allow existing cameras, but prohibit any locality in the state from installing new cameras. Lingamfelter has been fighting against red light cameras for years and cites the violation of civil rights as the rationale for eliminating the use of red light cameras.
In Seattle, political activist Tim Eyman renewed his previous attempts to create initiatives that would restrict red light cameras in several suburbs in the city. Eyman’s recent proposal would limit ticket prices and require public voting before the instatement of new cameras.
Pushback isn’t coming solely from a faction of lawmakers. Some citizens have voted down the use of red light cameras in city limits, such as in Houston and Anaheim, Calif.
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.