Bill that targets red-light runners unlikely to go far
Privacy, bias fears expected to trump safety argument
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
By JOHN PECK
Times Staff Writer email@example.com
A legislative committee today was to consider a bill that would authorize unmanned cameras at intersections to ticket drivers who run red lights.
Today's hearing before the House Public Safety Committee comes as the 2006 legislative session gets under way. The sponsor, Rep. Bill Grimes, R-Montgomery, expects opponents will try to derail the bill as they did last year.
"It's going to be killed," Grimes said Tuesday. "But I still wanted to put it out to let some people know we're looking out for them."
Similar red-light camera bills have been pushed almost every legislative session in the past decade. Opponents have questioned whether the cameras invade privacy, will be used to target poor neighborhoods or will ticket innocent motorists because of technical snafus.
Proponents, including Huntsville Police Chief Rex Reynolds and the state police chiefs association, say the cameras will make intersections safer and free officers to spend more time patrolling neighborhoods and fighting crime.
Grimes said Tuesday that he sponsored the bill after a teenage constituent in his district was killed by a red-light runner. Montgomery officials tested some remote red-light cameras at two busy intersections in the city last year and found 175 violators in one day, he said.
"They weren't just going through a yellow light," Grimes said. "They had run the red light by one full second."
Grimes' bill appears similar to others that failed in recent years in the Legislature. It would authorize fines of up to $250 and would require signs alerting motorists of camera-equipped intersections.
The system works like this: Sensors at camera-equipped intersections trip the camera when a vehicle goes through a red light without stopping. The photograph catches the rear of the vehicle to reveal the license plate. The registered owner is liable for the ticket unless he or she identifies who else was driving.
Grimes' bill would not allow points to be assessed against the driver's licenses of violators, and it would forbid insurance companies from raising rates based on camera-issued violations. The bill would prohibit court costs, which typically run far more than the fine. A typical moving violation in Huntsville incurs a $20 fine, but court costs tack on an additional $107.
Rep. Albert Hall, a member of the House Public Safety Committee that will review the bill today, vows to do everything he can to kill it. Hall, D-Gurley, said the measure is nothing short of another way for cities to raise revenue.
Grimes said ticket revenue is only an "incidental" benefit. "The main benefit is to protect the public from the wanton act of people carelessly running red lights without regard to the law," he said. He disputed claims from some black lawmakers that race may influence which areas of town get the cameras.
"They'd be positioned according to traffic counts and accidents," Grimes said. "The only color we're concerned with is red."
City councils in Montgomery, Opelika, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and elsewhere have approved or are considering similar resolutions of support. The Huntsville City Council approved a support resolution last year but has not taken up the issue this year.
Reynolds said the cameras could be moved easily to other intersections across the city.
"They can be not only an enforcement initiative but a deterrent," he said.
© 2006 The Huntsville Times
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