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(Columbus, OH) – A new research report released today outlines problems with the growing trend among cities to outsource traffic enforcement to red-light and speed camera vendors.
“Too many cities wrongly sign away power to ensure the safety of citizens on the roads when they privatize traffic law enforcement. Automated traffic ticketing tends to be governed by contracts that focus more on profits than safety.” said Jacqueline Thomas of Ohio PIRG, the Ohio Public Interest Research Group. “That shouldn’t happen,” Thomas added.
The report, titled Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead; The Risks of Privatizing Traffic Law Enforcement and How to Protect the Public finds that approximately half of states have enabled the use of automated traffic law enforcement. Municipalities in these states contract with private companies to provide cameras and issue citations to traffic violators. Citizens have often objected to privatized forms of traffic enforcement and many municipalities have found themselves in legal trouble when they attempt to change or update these contracts. Traffic engineering alternatives, such as lengthening yellow lights, are often the best way to reduce injuries from red-light running. However, those solutions too often get ignored because contractors and sometimes municipalities are more focused on increasing revenue from tickets.
“Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead raises critical warnings about revenue priorities overtaking safety concerns. This report is a must-read for city administrators in municipalities considering the addition of red light cameras, for authorities in communities that already have ticket cameras, and for motorists who are subjected to the privatized, for-profit automated traffic enforcement scheme known as red light cameras,” said Gary Biller, Executive Director of the National Motorists Association.
In Ohio, red-light cameras have been a contentious topic, with voters banning traffic cameras in Heath, Chillicothe and Cincinnati, paving the way for other communities to try to organize their own ballot initiatives. Columbus City Council has approved more red light cameras to be installed throughout the city, with the latest camera set to “go live” at 12:01 am October 27th, 2011, issuing citations to motorists caught running the red light at Olentangy River Road at Henderson Road.
State Representative Courtney Combs, R- Hamilton, introduced legislation in 2009 that would prohibit the use of red light cameras by Ohio State Highway Patrol, counties and townships. According to Representative Combs, “red light cameras are a money machine for political subdivisions to penalize their own citizens.”
The report recommends stronger guidelines to ensure that automated traffic enforcement programs must focus on improving road safety, rather than ticket revenue. Deals between local governments and traffic camera vendors should:
• Put public safety first in decisions regarding enforcement of traffic laws – this includes evaluating privatized law enforcement camera systems against alternative options without regard to potential revenues.
• Ensure that contract language is free from potential conflicts of interest.
• Avoid direct or indirect incentives for vendors that are based on the volume of tickets or fines.
• Retain public control over traffic policy and engineering decisions, including cancelling contracts if the public is dissatisfied.
• Ensure that the process of contracting with vendors is completely open, with ample opportunity for public participation and each ticket listing where to find online data about automated ticketing for each intersection.
“We are lucky that Ohio hasn’t yet seen the controversy and lawsuits over red-light cameras found in states like California, Florida, Missouri, Texas, and Washington. Looking at the growth of this industry around the country and all across our state, we want to learn from problems elsewhere to prevent them in Ohio,” said Thomas.
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