By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog
Are red light cameras essential safety tools that save lives or part of local money-grabbing scams that ignore due process while giving politicians more spending money?
It depends on whom you ask, and in this case political party affiliation has little to do with it.
H.B. 69, legislation that would prohibit cities and the Ohio State Highway Patrol from using a “traffic law photo-monitoring device to determine a violation of either the state traffic light or speed limit statute,” was approved 9-4 by the House Transportation Committee Tuesday.
Late today, the measure was approved by the full House by a vote of 61 to 32.
In April, family members of individuals killed by red light runners sent a letter to legislators urging them to oppose the measure, arguing the cameras save lives by changing driver behavior for the better.
The families provided the following statistics about safety numbers since the installation of cameras:
- Columbus – 74 percent reduction in right-angle crashes and 25 percent reduction in rear-end crashes
- Springfield – 47 percent reduction in crashes
- Toledo – 39 percent reduction in fatal red light running crashes
- Dayton – 35 percent reduction in red light running crashes.
“The numbers tell the story,” their letter said. “(T)hese cameras make roads safer.”
But in testimony in favor of the bill, Gary Daniels, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said that variables not common to all the studies and research make it difficult to answer the safety benefits question because of who conducts the studies, their financial interests in the issue and what data is reported..
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said “most studies also reported increases in rear-end crashes” and that “(t)his isn’t surprising. The more people stop on red, the more rear-end collisions there will be.”
A Car and Driver article opined on the methodology IIHS used:
IIHS insists that all red-light-camera studies must account for “regression to the mean” and for “spillover effects.”
Regression to the mean is a fact of life; in any one year, there could be an extraordinarily large number of crashes at a particular intersection, but over several years the count will revert back to average (mean).
Funny that IIHS insists regression be accounted for in studies at stoplights when it never considers the same factor in its studies of speed limits.
Spillover effect is IIHS’s trick for giving the cameras credit for reducing fatalities even where they aren’t. It assumes that red-light cameras at a few intersections will cause drivers to stop promptly all over town, or all over the county, or maybe all over the state, so improvements outside the cameras’ ZIP Codes are credited to them nonetheless.
In a 2005 study of 130 red-light camera intersections across the country, the Federal Highway Administration found that right-angle crashes decreased, but rear-end crashes increased 15 percent, though they noted that rear-end crashes are less dangerous than right-angle ones.
Proponents of the ban say the primary reason for the cameras isn’t safety, but revenue. In proponent testimony in April, Stephan Louis, of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes in Cincinnati, agreed.
“Let’s be candid about the purpose to these robots,” he told the committee. “Local governments throughout Ohio have glommed on to these devices exclusively or principally for the income they extract from their residents, not public safety. Red light cameras are an easy way to close budgetary gaps, not to address legitimate public safety concerns.”
Last year, the Toledo City Council approved the addition of 11 cameras at intersections “likely” to have violations in order to raise funds for the city’s recreation department. Finance director Patrick McLean estimated they would raise $320,000 to fund recreation programs that would otherwise be cut. Toledo was one of the first cities in the Midwest to use cameras.
Proponents of the ban raised various legal issues as reasons for the bill.
In sponsor testimony, Mallory noted that despite the ability of municipalities to exercise ‘home rule’ authority, the state has primary responsibility for traffic laws and classifies red light and speeding violations as criminal offenses, resulting in the ability of a court trial. He noted that many cities make the camera violations a civil offense.
“Can a city issue criminal and civil citations for the same offense?” he asked. “This also raises questions and concerns as to whether or not camera tickets can invalidate equal protection under the law.”
The ACLU’s Daniels agreed, saying cameras have turned innocent until proven guilty on its head. He noted there is no ability to face the accuser.
In Toledo, the ordinance authorizing the cameras requires the vehicle’s owner to be cited, not the driver. Because of the way the law is written, even if the owner can prove they weren’t driving at the time of citation, the only way to get out of the ticket is to provide the identity of the driver. Local attorneys have said this means that not only is the owner assumed guilty, but once proven innocent, they must then find the guilty party in order to avoid penalties.
Committee Chairman Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, was joined by Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield, Rep. Margaret Ann Ruhl, R-Mt. Vernon, and Rep. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, in opposing the bill in committee.
The measure was referred to the Senate, which is not likely to consider it until after their summer break.