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Virginia Revives Red Light Cameras
Virginia House Speaker flip-flops and allows red light cameras to return to the state.

VA Speaker William J. Howell
Final passage of legislation re-starting Virginia's controversial red light camera program is expected today in the House of Delegates. Previously the state had allowed the devices under a ten-year pilot program that expired in July 2005. The legislature twice declined to reauthorize the program after a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) report concluded there was an overall increase in the number of injury accidents of up to 24 percent.

This year, House Speaker William J. Howell (R) this year dropped his earlier protection of motorist rights to allow the state to adopt lucrative toll road deals. Just last week, VDOT began photo enforcement on toll roads in Northern Virginia.

The House did vote 61-37 yesterday to approve a number of restrictions on the ticket systems. Cameras will only be allowed in cities with a population greater than 10,000. Before installing a camera, the localities must perform an intersection safety survey and complete all recommended engineering upgrades. Cameras will still be allowed to trap motorists who enter an intersection a split-second after it turns red, but a new provision says that devices must wait at least 0.5 seconds before ticketing -- setting one of the highest required grace periods in the country. In other cities such as San Diego, California, the grace period has been reduced to 0.0 seconds to boost revenue.

Tickets are limited to $50, and cities may only enter into flat-rate contracts with private vendors -- although an identical provision in a California state law is ignored by vendors that provide a "no risk" payment system to cities based upon the amount of revenue collected. Officials must make monthly inspection and maintenance records available to the public, and any motorist can decline to pay a ticket by issuing a statement that he was not the driver.

The House measure must be reconciled with a differing version passed in the Senate and the compromise signed by the governor before it takes effect.

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