Crowell files bill to ban cameras at intersections
Sunday, December 25, 2005
RUDI KELLER ~ Southeast Missourian
Those already installed would have to be removed.
Perched above the stoplights in a few Missouri towns, cameras record automobiles that run through intersections after the lights change to red. A few days later, the owners of those cars receive a citation.
The cameras in Arnold, Florissant and Springfield would have to come down if State Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, succeeds in passing a bill he proposed for the upcoming legislative session.
Arguments against the cameras, Crowell said, range from an opposition to the financing arrangements for the monitors -- many companies installing them receive a share of the fines -- to questions about intrusive government.
In jurisdictions that use the cameras, some receiving citations have pleaded that they were not driving the cars at the time of the violation. But Missouri law makes car owners liable for the safe operation of their vehicles. For example, it is a crime to allow a car to be used by an unlicensed driver.
Those supporting the cameras, including Cape Girardeau Police Lt. John Davis, believe the watchful automatic eyes make all motorists safer. They see no difference between using technology to watch an intersection and a live police officer posted at the same spot.
Residents favor monitoring
Missourians seem to favor the cameras. A poll of 600 state residents conducted by Zogby International in late October found 80 percent of those surveyed approved of cameras monitoring dangerous intersections.
The poll was commissioned by the Missouri Insurance Coalition.
"The safety world out there knows there are an awful lot of violations at intersections," said Calvin Call, director of the insurance group, which is the lobbying arm of the insurance industry.
He said senior citizens are the leading cause of fatalities at intersections. He said failing eyesight or slower response times may explain why.
Crowell's bill would deny local governments the authority to install the cameras. In addition to banning new installations, the provisions would also require any already in place to be removed.
One of the worst aspects of the cameras is that some cities across the country gave the companies that installed them complete control of enforcement at monitored intersections, Crowell said.
Companies change the timing of monitored lights by actions such as shortening yellow light cycles, Crowell said. That means more tickets and more revenue for the vendors.
"The goal may be a lofty goal, but in this whole analysis of lofty goals I hope we don't get caught up in the ends justifying the means," he said.
Another problem with some systems is that they do not record any information that could mitigate the violation. An ambulance approaching a motorist blocking an intersection is a legitimate reason to run a red light, Crowell said.
Safeguards to protect motorists from misuse of the cameras can be included in any system, said Davis of the Cape Girardeau police.
Davis, who is chairman of the Missouri Law Enforcement Traffic Safety Advisory Council, said the added safety provided by the cameras outweighs any other considerations in his view.
Not only do the cameras reduce the number of crashes at monitored intersections, there is a 40 percent decrease in the number of crashes throughout cities and towns with the monitors, he said. Motorists are warier because they are unsure where the cameras are located.
Davis opposes any system that doesn't include a review by a trained law enforcement officer prior to the issuance of the ticket.
Questions about intrusive monitoring of the public can be countered by noting that people live with cameras watching them in stores, banks, parking lots and other locations, he said. "And the time the systems I saw are watching is when you are violating the law," he said.
Cape Girardeau has discussed installing the monitoring cameras in the past, Davis said, but there are no current plans to create a system.
Crowell's bill does not specifically bar the state from installing its own camera systems. And it does not prohibit the transformation of a Missouri Department of Transportation program that monitors cell phone signals to gauge traffic flow into a law enforcement system. The monitoring program can track auto speeds. Other systems, such as global positioning systems, can also be used to track cars.
Whether state law needs to include a prohibition on tracking cars to issue speeding citations is an issue that may come up at hearings on the bill, Crowell said.
"We may want to act in a preventive manner," he said.