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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Ind. Law - State may jump on red-light camera bandwagon

"State may jump on red-light camera bandwagon: Local intersections would be among those getting watchdogs under legislative plan." This is the headline to this story today in the Indianapolis Star. Some quotes:

Indianapolis drivers could be among the first in the state to face intersection cameras -- intended to nab those who blow through red lights -- if lawmakers approve the idea this year, city officials said Tuesday.

The proposal would let 10 Indiana cities and towns test the $55,000 cameras, which snap pictures of license plates on cars that run a stoplight, and Indianapolis would apply to be a part of the pilot program.

Despite privacy concerns, red-light cameras are gaining popularity nationwide, and the idea may have a better shot in Indiana this year because Republicans control both the General Assembly and the governor's office. * * *

The current proposal would let cities and towns issue citations up to $100 based on the pictures but also would require signs to alert drivers that cameras are in use. Only 10 intersections in each community would be covered during the initial period.

Traffic accidents "change people's lives in an instant," [Indianapolis Mayor Bart] Peterson said. "It's purely a traffic safety issue for me."

The Star notes: "Senate Bill 570, which would allow 10 Indiana cities to install red-light cameras, will be heard at 1:30 p.m. today in Room 130 of the Statehouse."

Reading the Star story this morning, I recalled a NY Times story from earlier this year. The story, published in the Technology section of the Times on Jan. 6, 2005, begins:

ON a perfectly clear day in October, Carla Correa, a confessed neurotic when it comes to getting a ticket, powered her Honda Civic toward an intersection in Baltimore on her way to visit her boyfriend in Washington. When the light turned yellow, she did not simply cruise through, but instead slammed on the brakes.

Seconds later, a truck rammed her from behind, and her car was wrecked.

Why would she do such a thing? The answer could be found in a box mounted on a nearby post, with a lens pointed at her license plate.

"It's an intersection that I've been through a million times before, and I knew that it was a quick yellow light," Ms. Correa, 25, said in a telephone interview. She also knew that the intersection was equipped with a camera. "And when I saw the yellow, I freaked out."

Though unhurt, Ms. Correa has made a resolution: from now on, if it seems the light is about to turn red, she is going to run it. "If I hadn't known there was a red-light camera there, I would have gone through," she said. "Every time I see the red-light camera, I'm terrified by it. It's a $70 ticket." (Actually, it's $75.)

Her experience is not an anomaly. Cameras like the one she spotted are now in use in more than 100 American cities. Activated by road sensors when a car enters an intersection belatedly, the systems provide evidence of a violation, including photos of the license plate and in some cases, the driver.

While Baltimore reports that violations for running red lights have gone down 60 percent at the 47 intersections with such cameras, several studies in recent years - in places like San Diego, Charlotte, N.C., and Australia - have offered a fuzzier picture. The studies have shown that the reduction in side-angle collisions at the intersections has been wholly or largely offset by an increase in rear-end accidents like Ms. Correa's.

In addition, there has been criticism of the cameras' use to generate revenue from fines - in some cases exceeding $300 per violation, with points on a driver's record - and of revenue-sharing arrangements with providers of the technology. Those arrangements, critics contend, have led to the placement of cameras not necessarily where they would best promote safety, but where they will rack up the most violations.

Those questions, along with malfunctions and legal challenges, have led some local governments to remove the cameras. Virginia's legislature is considering whether to renew a law, expiring in July, that permits the cameras, used in six Virginia cities.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 2, 2005 07:36 AM
Posted to Indiana Law