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Coalition Fights Proposed Traffic Camera Ban

Supporters of red light cameras are mobilizing opposition against a ban on the technology. A group of police officials and safety advocates are voicing their support for a bill that would reform use of the devices in Columbus and other Ohio cities. The Ohio House approved a proposed ban earlier this year. Opponents say the cameras are little more than money-making machines for local governments. Those governments say the cameras have improved public safety. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

Republican Senator Kevin Bacon is trying to find a way to avoid an all-out ban on cameras that watch for drivers who run red lights or speed. The Columbus-area legislator says the devices used to catch law-breaking drivers at dangerous intersections are reducing crashes and making areas safer.

The Senate is currently debating a bill that would prohibit the use of traffic cameras anywhere in the state. Bacon is introducing a measure that avoids a ban and implements a statewide standard instead.

A coalition of law enforcement and safety officials gathered in the Statehouse to support Bacon’s effort. That includes Sergeant Brett Bauer, with the Springfield Police Department, who says a ban would send the state in reverse.

Bauer: “If there’s technology that allows us to reduce these crashes—a technology that’s working—there’s no reason to ban it in our state. These cameras allow our police department to deter dangerous driving where red light running and speeding are most prevalent and we fear that removing them from our streets would lead to more crashes.”

Democratic Representative Dale Mallory is a co-sponsor of the bill to ban the cameras. He says municipalities are abusing the devices to generate revenue. Mallory argued during a speech on the House floor in June that the companies manufacturing and operating these cameras are partially to blame because of their aggressive sales push.

Mallory: “This bill is a bipartisan effort to protect Ohioans from the overuse of excessive fines. Camera programs have been repeatedly rejected by both voters and the courts but they continue to spread throughout the state by companies from out of town with clever names and sales tactics.”

Lieutenant Brenton Mull, with the Columbus Police Department, recognizes Mallory’s concerns, but urges lawmakers to find some middle ground on the issue.

Mull: “There are some agencies out there that just did not get it right and I think we should have some kind of reform and I think Senator Bacon is on the right track we shouldn’t throw this whole thing out I think we owe it to the citizens of the state of Ohio to make sure intersections are safe and if we can use technology to do that—I don’t know why we shouldn’t.”

Democrats and Republicans fall on both sides of the debate. Supporters of the ban say using the cameras lacks due process for drivers hoping to defend themselves and refute the charges.

This is a dilemma that Bacon addresses in his proposed bill. He says these are legitimate concerns but a ban is not the answer.

Bacon: “It would be—I think—wise to create a statewide standard in the state of Ohio that I think would adequately address those concerns and allow the use of the cameras so we can continue to promote safety at our intersections across the state of Ohio.”

Among the provisions, Bacon says the bill would create a process that gives drivers an opportunity to argue their side of the story. It also contains public information measures to ensure that drivers know where the cameras will be located.

Lieutenant Mull says knowing where the cameras are helps reduce crashes and make driving safer for everyone.

Mull: “This is a force multiplier and we’re able to change driver behavior and I know every single person in this room—including myself—when I see a cruiser driving down the road maybe we’ll look down at our speedometer—we’ll hit our turn signal when we make a lane change—these lights that are controlled by photo red lights they … it works—changes your behavior.”

The bill to ban traffic cameras has already passed the House. Bacon’s proposed legislation has yet to be formally introduced.

Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.
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