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Court ruling aside, traffic camera foes still have options

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on March 18, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
March 19, 2012 9:04 am

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

The Washington Supreme Court has spoken, and opponents of red-light cameras don’t like what it had to say.

The court ruled last week that local initiatives can’t be used to block or remove traffic-enforcement cameras – such as the ones that photograph the license plates of red-light runners in several South Sound cities. State law gives only city councils authority over those cameras, the court said.

The response from camera opponents – most notably Tim “Mr. Initiative” Eyman – was fast and furious. The decision, he said, sounds “un-American.” Critics say they are disappointed and angry that the citizens have been muscled out of the decision-making process.

But they haven’t been really. Nothing is stopping camera critics from seeking changes in the state law through their legislators, changes that would make allowances for citizen-initiated ballot measures. They can also back city council candidates who represent their viewpoint and oppose ones they consider overly supportive of traffic cameras.

Nothing stops citizens from putting advisory votes on the ballot, and those have proved to be effective in convincing some city councils to get rid of cameras. Even Eyman admits that the advisory votes “seem to have as much political impact as binding votes do.” So why sweat it?

We admit to being fans of the cameras – as long as they’re used for the right reason: traffic safety, not as revenue streams. Enough research has been done to conclude that the cameras do what they’re supposed to do: deter people from running red lights. Indeed, they work so well that cities often see their ticket revenues declining as fewer drivers run the light at intersections with cameras.

And they enhance safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety looked at 99 large U.S. cities to gauge the effects of red-light cameras on fatality rates. It found that the cameras reduced traffic fatalities by 24 percent.
Critics argue that the cameras actually cause accidents when drivers slam on their brakes at the last minute to avoid running a red light and are hit from behind.

That does happen, but it usually only involves a minor fender bender – not the devastating, potentially deadly T-bone crashes caused by red-light running. And if a driver runs into a car that has braked, it means that driver was following too closely or not paying attention. Either way, it’s the driver’s fault, not the camera’s.

No one likes to get a ticket. Then again, no one likes to be T-boned by a driver blowing through a red light. Ideally, traffic cops could be stationed at every bad intersection, pulling over offenders. But that’s not possible. Red-light cameras perform the same service, but free up police for other work – like chasing killers and rapists. That’s reason enough to like them.

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