Lawmakers trying to kill traffic cams

February 28, 2009



JACKSON -- Legislation against cameras that catch red-light runners has gained widespread support in the Mississippi House and Senate. 


People complain the traffic cameras are government surveillance gone overboard and are being used to generate more money for cities and counties. 


"We''ve had an enormous amount of public outcry," said Senate Highways and Transportation Chairman Tom King, R-Petal. "A lot of people feel like the cameras have been misused and abused." 


The Senate this week will take up a House-passed bill that King''s committee tightened up last week with language drafted by Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus. 


Brown said he''s gotten bombarded with requests from constituents to prohibit local governments from using the red-light cameras. 


"We''ve had a lot of calls about that. We''ve gotten a lot of grief over them," he said. 


The Senate''s version of House Bill 1568 would ban cities and counties from using cameras to record motorists as they''re running red lights and fine them based on the photographed evidence of their car license plates. 


The House-passed bill - which got a 117-3 vote two weeks ago -- just prohibited traffic tickets being issued based on the camera-photographed evidence. 


The Senate Highways and Transportation Committee on Wednesday adopted Brown''s proposal to enact an absolute ban on the traffic cameras. It would give cities that already have them -- Columbus and Jackson being among them -- until October to take them down. 


The Columbus City Council authorized the installation of the city''s first traffic camera last year to catch red-light runners. It was placed at the intersection of 14th Street and Waterworks Road. 


Two cameras capture both the red light and the violator''s license plate in the same photo to prove a violation occurred. 


Drivers cited for running red lights receive a ticket in the mail with instructions on how to pay the fine. The money can be paid online or through the mail. 


The traffic cameras -- described by lawmakers as "the ultimate in big brother" and "big brother on a pole" -- are considered an invasion of privacy and an extreme example of government spying to catch people violating the law. 


Local governments are being enticed to buy them by companies that sell them so they can make more money from traffic fines, Brown said.  


"All it is is a money grab," he said. 


However, supporters of the surveillance cameras say statistics prove they deter people from running red lights -- thereby reducing auto accidents and saving lives. 


"That''s what the cameras are about -- public safety," said House Transportation Chairman Warner McBride, D-Courtland. 


The Federal Highway Administration cites statistics showing red-light violations and crashes were reduced in cities after installing traffic cameras. For example, in Oxnard, Calif., intersection collisions declined by 32 percent. 


"The red-light camera can be an effective and reliable tool to help reduce the number of red-light-running violations and associated crashes," states a FHA report. 


However, Brown and King said they''ve seen no persuasive proof that posting cameras with warning signs make more people stop at red lights. 


"From everything we''ve seen, there''s no concrete evidence that it has anything to do with traffic safety," Brown said. 


At least 18 states have laws allowing red-light cameras, but about six states have banned or severely restricted their use, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.