TRAFFIC SAFETY Proposal would limit cameras at red lights

Under the plan, cameras could be used only if an officer witnessed a violation.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Cameras that catch red-light runners and speeders are operating at busy intersections in Dayton and Toledo and could be coming to more cities if state lawmakers don't slow them down.
The cameras have drawn interest recently from city officials who see them as a way to reduce traffic accidents and boost their budgets.
But a proposal in the Ohio House seeks to severely limit how much the cameras can be used. It would allow the cameras to be used only if a police officer is present and witnesses the traffic violation.
"Everyone's catching camera fever, and I don't think we've had enough debate on this to go that route yet," said Rep. James Raussen, R-Springdale.
Studies have indicated that the cameras have not reduced accidents, Raussen said.
Safety vs. danger
A study funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation showed rear-end collisions actually increased in cities with red-light cameras, as motorists stopped abruptly at yellow lights to avoid a ticket.
But Toledo police Chief Mike Navarre said accidents are down at 13 intersections in the city where the cameras are placed.
"I think it's irresponsible for these state representatives to bring forth legislation that attacks a solution to a very serious problem in this state without offering alternative solutions," he said. "We have a solution that's working."
Dayton police have issued more than 22,000 violations from the cameras over the past two years, said Detective Carol Johnson.
"Those are violations that the officers probably would not have caught. Our officers are good, but the camera never sleeps," she said.
Raussen said he's not sure whether cities are interested in the cameras to improve safety or to improve their bottom lines.
"Somebody has to speak up for the public here," he said. "Is it really for public safety?"
Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell has proposed installing cameras and said they would have the potential of raising $6.5 million a year in additional traffic fines.
Cincinnati is still planning on installing the cameras after city council members approved the idea in December.
Council members said the proposal to limit the cameras was stepping on the city's right to govern itself.
Councilman David Crowley, a supporter of the cameras, said Cincinnati shouldn't back down "every time some people in Columbus start rattling swords."
Rep. Steve Buehrer, R-Delta, supports the bill for several reasons, including privacy issues and due process to contest the citations.
"People continue to run red lights," he said. "We haven't solved the problem."

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