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Legislature should give yellow light to red-light cameras

While some are looking to find a way to give a green light to red-light traffic cameras and others the exact opposite, a yellow light is the direction the state should flash regarding this volatile subject.

These cameras are timed to take pictures of alleged violating vehicles that run red lights (meaning entry of an intersection after the light has gone to red). Proponents argue they provide greater safety while opponents dispute that, point out constitutionality and enforcement problems with their use, and wonder whether jurisdictions are more interested in collecting revenue from them than in safety. Several states and several communities in Louisiana have banned their use, while others use them.

The state administratively is reviewing their use for state-designated roads and suspended any use of them on state roads by local governments. However, several bills have been introduced this legislative session addressing the issue, all more regulatory than then present, all the way from banning their use entirely to standards for their use to maximum fines to having local option approve of their use in any way.

Previously, I noted that, on balance, there probably is a marginal safety improvement in their use, but that more than minimal resources must be spent by local governments to ensure constitutional rights are not violated in the use of their products as evidence, and these jurisdictions must follow these set procedures. Further, I recommended, to guarantee that safety truly is first and foremost in the minds of policy-makers, that any fines collected be remitted to fund education in the state (perhaps to subsidize schools in the drivers’ education programs).

All the bills so far on the docket together would achieve much of what I proposed as a model bill, except obviously the outright ban, and a local option whether to allow their use (with absence of such affirmative vote meaning they would not be) also is good. In the spirit of compromise, I am willing to alter my proposal, to allow local governments to keep enough of the proceeds solely and only to pay a contractor to operate the system, with this rest remitted to the state for educational purposes. This means that funds generated could not, for example, be used to pay for a police officer to monitor camera images in real-time or to make positive identifications after the fact, or to offset additional administrative and legal costs, and the like.

The Legislature takes up the first of these bills today. Specifically, any combination of these bills that would create a red-light camera program where (1) it is funded solely by the local authority (2) with a minimum long yellow light time set in those intersections (3) which must be posted as having a camera (4) which must take pictures both of license plates and faces (5) that must be “clearly recognizable” after review by a police officer verified by a trial judge (6) from a camera proven calibrated accurately taking only vehicle and people photos after intersection entrance during a red light not making a legal right turn (7) subject to criminal proceedings (8) where any fine resulting from a conviction after contract costs only is paid not to the local jurisdiction but to fund the state’s Minimum Foundation Program that supports elementary and secondary education above the existing formula is one worth pursuing.

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