Cameras at red lights to enforce law
City Council voted in favor of the installation plan for the system.


August 23, 2006

Enforcing red lights can be a challenge for the Columbia Police Department. Officers hope that installing cameras at five pilot locations will help them catch more traffic scofflaws.

“Installing the cameras is like having a police officer on duty for 24 hours,” police Sgt. Tim Moriarity said. “It will help us prevent serious accidents caused by drivers running red lights.”

The City Council voted on Monday in favor of a plan to install and operate a red-light camera system. The Police Department will issue a request for bids.

“We are trying to find a system that will best suit Columbia and our needs,” Moriarity said. “I’m currently looking into vendors and looking into intersections that have problems with red lights.”

The Police Department has yet to decide which intersections will get cameras. Moriarity said officers have some ideas but want public input.

Moriarity predicted the cameras will improve safety and increase awareness of the need to pay attention to traffic signals.

“The red light is there for a reason,” Moriarity said. “When people run the light, traffic doesn’t flow as smoothly, intersections are blocked and a lot of people are put at risk.”

The cameras will take snapshots of vehicles that run red lights; police will then use the license plate numbers to track down the owners and issue tickets by mail. City Counselor Fred Boeckmann said in a memo to the council that police will presume that the owners of offending vehicles are the ones running red lights. Boeckmann said it’s just not practical to try to identify drivers. Boeckmann had previously argued that the difficulty involved in identifying drivers made the cameras a bad idea.

Columbia is joining other Missouri cities in using the devices. Arnold Police Department Chief Robert Shockey said he has seen a reduction in accidents since the city installed the camera system in October 2005. Shockey said that the greatest benefit of the system has been safety.

“We’ve had an 11 percent drop in accidents in the intersections that are monitored by the cameras,” Shockey said. “The point of the cameras is to protect citizens and make roadways safer for the public.”

Damian Kostiuk of Columbia was passionate enough to write to the Missourian in December 2005 to share his frustrations with drivers running red lights. Kostiuk said he is “gung-ho” about having cameras at traffic lights.

“I’m amazed by people who gun it when it’s red,” Kostiuk said.

While Kostiuk likes the idea of a camera system, he said the rules need to be clearly stated.

“I lived in Washington, D.C., for awhile and there was some crazy usage,” Kostiuk said. “Friends were ticketed when the toe of their car was just on the white line. It would be good if the camera can see when it turns red and two or three cars run a red light. I want tickets for those people that run a red light.”

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