4/20/2012Legislative Update: Traffic Cameras Win, Lose in Several States
Photo enforcement legislation advances and fails in Arizona, Illinois and Tennessee.
Supporters and opponents of red light cameras and speed cameras could claim significant legislative victories over the past few weeks in Arizona, Illinois and Tennessee. The Arizona state House of Representatives voted 27-29 yesterday to defeat legislation that would have updated the legal definition of an intersection. Currently, red light camera tickets are being issued based on a legal provision that has the same effect as shortening the length of the yellow warning light by 0.6 seconds. Though the latter provision is in violation of federal law, lawmakers chose not to fix it, siding with lobbyists for the traffic camera industry.
In Chicago, Illinois the city council on Wednesday voted 34-14 to implement Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposal to create the nation's largest speed camera program. Owners of vehicles accused by a machine of driving a few miles per hour over the speed limit will be billed up to $100. Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian firm that runs the existing red light camera program, has the inside track on landing the lucrative photo radar contract. As reported by TheNewspaper last year, Gregory Goldner, Emanuel's campaign manager, runs the "Traffic Safety Coalition" front group for Redflex. Goldner's public relations firm specializes in creating the appearance of grassroots support for unpopular legislation.
Though the Illinois General Assembly gave the green light to Emanuel's speed camera plan earlier this year, state lawmakers may take away the Windy City's profit from red light cameras. The state Senate voted 43-5 on March 28 to adopt language similar to existing law in Ohio and Georgia giving motorists more time to stop at lights.
"The minimal yellow light change interval shall be established in accordance with nationally recognized engineering standards using the 85th percentile approach traffic speed, derived from engineering speed studies conducted under good conditions and not influenced by law enforcement actions or visible speed display signs, and any established time may not be less than the recognized national standard plus one additional second," Senate Bill 3504 states.
The lopsided vote in favor of the bill was a slap to the state Department of Transportation which lobbied heavily against it. According to the Texas Transportation Institute, adding an additional second to the ITE minimum yellow yielded 53 percent reduction in violations (view report). This is so because the vast majority of violations happen within the first 0.25 seconds after the light changes (see chart).
On Monday, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (R) signed a law asserting the state's jurisdiction over red light camera and speed camera programs. Localities had argued that the General Assembly was powerless to regulate the use of automated ticketing machines in any way because doing so would interfere with existing contracts between municipalities and camera companies.
"A local government shall include in any contract involving unmanned traffic enforcement cameras that the contract must conform to any changes in state law," the statute, which takes effect July 1, states. "New and existing contracts, as well as contract renewals occurring after the effective date of this act, shall contain a provision that the contract shall comply with all applicable revisions of state law."