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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 |
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.”

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