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Red light fight? Competing bills would standardize cameras

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Jan. 6, 2011 at 1:06 pm with 14 Comments »
January 6, 2011 1:07 pm

Cameras at intersections have become a controversial tool to keep drivers from running red lights, and the Legislature may put new restrictions on them this year.

There’s a feeling in city halls and in Olympia that if lawmakers don’t, voters will.

Two competing efforts are emerging. A bill being drafted with the support of the Tacoma City Council would try to standardize how cities adopt the cameras, what signs they put up and whom they ticket. Meanwhile, a couple of bills about to be introduced by the conservative Democrat who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, Rep. Chris Hurst, would set up more stringent standards and give voters in each city a veto.

Requiring voter approval would make it harder for more cities to join the list of cities that use red-light cameras — which already includes Lakewood, Puyallup, Federal Way, Fife and Tacoma.

Hurst will talk about his bills Friday in a news conference in his hometown of Enumclaw. He said his goal is making sure cities are using the cameras to prevent accidents, not to generate revenue.

Both of his bills would require voter approval before cities put up the cameras. And both would offer an extra second to drive through a light as it changes from yellow to red without being ticketed. They would do it in slightly different ways, according to early drafts.

One would require a one-second grace period after the light turns red. The other would require lights to stay yellow for one second longer than a state standard. Lawmakers can pick which approach they like best.

Hurst said he’s worried cities will shorten yellow lights to drive up revenue from the tickets.

The ideas suggested by Tacoma and being drafted as bills by lawmakers from the city are more modest. But freshman Rep. Connie Ladenburg, a Democrat, said they would address some of drivers’ biggest concerns about the cameras.

One is the worry that cameras will ensnare drivers who are turning right on red, and who inch forward into the turn instead of making the required complete stop. Ladenburg is still working on exactly what standards to propose, but the idea is to prevent ticketing of drivers as long as they slow down and don’t endanger pedestrians.

There isn’t a lot of middle ground between the two approaches. Ladenburg, who is vice-chair of Hurst’s committee, opposes his efforts to let voters decide on cameras, saying voters shouldn’t micromanage traffic control.

Voters in Mukilteo cracked down on red light cameras last November, supporting a Tim Eyman initiative to cap fines and require voter approval before adding cameras. It could be a precedent for other cities or even for a statewide initiative.

“If the Legislature does not act,” Hurst said, “I can virtually guarantee you’ll see it on the ballot in 2011.”

Leave a comment Comments → 14
  1. dirtydan54 says:

    This time follow Arizonas lead and enact legislation eliminating all ticket cameras.

  2. chip98404 says:

    I fully support the more stringent bill, but I would also like to see it limit speed cameras to school zones and peg the max fine for either at 1/2 the cost of the cheapest parking ticket in the jurisdiction where the camera is located. These devices require little manpower and should not be as punitive as manned stops.

  3. I agree 100% with dirtydan54.

    My #1 complaint about Tacoma is both the red light AND the speeding cameras.

  4. Never respond to the mailed notice. There is nothing they can do to you. The instant you try to explain, you have agreed to personal jurisdiction.

    Better to simply ignore them.


    Of course the fine should be less if a camera catches you vs a real cop. Just like a deadly crash from a red light runner is less serious if not witnessed by a cop. Red light runners kill 10 times as many people as drunks, but who cares?

  6. severe limits on red light cameras, and ban speed cameras completely. Red light cameras should only ticket people who blantantly blow through the red light, not people who make a rolling stop, or stop, and then proceed against the red after ensuring the coast is clear. I’m not saying that behavior is ok, but if the goal is to improve safety, you should focus only on the most blatant of offenders.


    Pglein, I agree with that. I was at 72nd and Pacific one day and watched 3 people enter the intersection after we had green. That is who should be targeted.

  8. fatuous says:

    “My #1 complaint about Tacoma is both the red light AND the speeding cameras.”

    Good! I hope you stay away. I’ve seen enough idiot divers this week.

  9. Why don’t people just start stopping at red lights? Then we won’t have to worry about getting ticketed by cameras, right?

  10. buttonz says:

    News alert: Running red lights are actually ILLEGAL, as well as SPEEDING. Just in case you didn’t know.

  11. cubuffalo says:

    Initiatives like this should never be on the ballot. I hope the law makers work together to make this work. These systems are really proving effective in lowering property damage and personal injuries.

  12. frenzied says:

    I think it is absolutely ridiculous that Hurst would mandate a public vote. Just what we need the public making decisions on what is safe and what is not on the roadways. Voters are not equipped in a yes/no ballot to make decisions about traffic safety. We elect people to govern us for a reason. presumably they will take the time to educate themselves on the merits of whatever the project is. If Hurst doesn’t like the cameras stand up and say so. If the public doesn’t want the cameras vote in politicians that won’t put them in, but by God keep it off of the ballot.

  13. i am a big fan of standardization. this is good.

  14. blue_bayou says:

    I too hope the legislators work together to come up with a bill that works all the way around. Public opinion should not be a factor when it comes to deciding how traffic laws should be enforced.

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