Cars run lights in test of cameras
Proposed ticketing system gets tryout

By Christian Hill

Lacey Today

Lacey drivers are a step closer to being caught on camera if they run a red light, and new tests at two more intersections show that drivers are blowing through lights throughout the city.
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A recent test found 22 violations at Carpenter Road and Pacific Avenue, and 10 violations at Martin Way and Marvin Road during 24 hours of monitoring at each intersection spread over two or three days in January.

An earlier test showed several violations per hour at other intersections.

The Transportation Committee instructed staff to move forward toward full implementation of the program. Then the seven-member City Council must weigh in.

All but one of the people heís chatted with about the proposal have supported it, Councilman Graeme Sackrison said. Sackrison said heís behind the program as long as it improves safety and pays for itself.

ďI see it as a safety issue rather than a profit center,Ē he said.

Councilman John Darby was slightly more reserved in his support, saying heíd like to see data from state and federal agencies on the effectiveness of the cameras. He didnít raise objections to the committeeís action.

The remaining committee member, Councilman Tom Nelson, was absent.

Vendorís test

A vendor agreed to install the test cameras at no cost to gather data to assist with the cityís decision. No citations were issued during the test period.

In January, the committee reviewed data from red-light violations from four intersections, which showed the biggest problem at the intersection of Pacific and Sleater-Kinney Road. It directed Lacey Police Chief Dusty Pierpoint to come back with data for the additional intersections.

The figures donít include violations for right turns where the frequency of rolling stops makes enforcement more subjective.

All the data seems to indicate red-light running is a consistent problem throughout Lacey, but itís uncertain whether the number of violations could financially support the camera system.

Last year, state lawmakers gave cities the ability to use camera systems to ticket violators. They allowed the city of Lakewood to use the system under a pilot program.

The cameras capture the license plates of only those vehicles that enter an intersection after a light turns red. Pictures of the vehicleís occupants are prohibited because of privacy concerns. The cameras can only be installed at intersections of two arterials and canít be used on neighborhood streets.

Vendors install, maintain and process the data. But a police officer must review the information to ensure it supports the citation before itís mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.

The fee can be waived if registered owners file affidavits in court saying they werenít driving their vehicle at the time of the infraction.
The city must post signs at intersections that use cameras to alert motorists.

The amount of the citation cannot exceed the fine levied for a parking infraction and will not become part of a driving record. The City Council would set the fine.

One proposal is a fine of $101, with $24 going to the vendor.

According to city estimates, each camera costs about $5,000 a month, so monitoring the four main travel directions at a busy intersection would cost $20,000 a month.

Under that scenario, the cameras would need to capture nearly nine
violations daily for the program to be self-supporting at that intersection, according to the estimates.

A lot of variables play into whether a camera-monitored intersection would pay for itself.

Itís certain fewer violations would occur if the system is installed because motorists would drive more cautiously. And a portion of the fines could be excused by the court if the registered owners prove they werenít driving the vehicles.

On the other hand, Pierpoint said, one intersection could have enough violations to pay for the equipment on a second intersection with fewer violations.

And, he added, residents may lobby for cameras at a location with fewer violations. In that case, city leaders might be in a position to decide whether itís worth bearing some of the cost.

The use of the cameras wouldnít stop red-light running in Lacey altogether, the police chief said.

ďItís not going to change everything or fix everything. Itís just another tool with all the other things that are going on. Itís certainly not going to replace police officers or engineering like roundabouts.Ē

Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey for Lacey Today. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or