Stoplight Camera Legislation a Go?

by Mark Todd Engler on February 4, 2011

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Tracy said he’s hopeful legislation will come out of the General Assembly this year that enacts uniform statewide regulatory standards governing the operation of traffic cameras by local law enforcement agencies.

The Shelbyville Republican told TNReport recently that after two years of start-and-stop discussions he believes there’s been enough on-the-record examination and deliberation of the issues involved to green-light legislative action this session.

Tracy indicated he opposes kicking the can down the road by sending the issue back into study-committee mode.

“It is a complicated issue, no question about that,” said Tracy. “But the more I got into it, the more I realized we do need to come up with a uniform policy.”

While Tracy said he does hear voices advocating that cameras be outlawed altogether, there’s enough support among local cops and officials that an outright statewide ban  — at least of the busy-intersection surveillance variety —  probably isn’t in the cards.

He added, though, that he perceives substantially more citizen anger and steadfast opposition directed specifically at speed-enforcement cameras.

Under legislation Tracy said he’d likely support, counties and cities could still ban red-light or speed cameras within their jurisdictions if pressured to do so by their constituents.

“I have met with communities across the board, and I want to make sure (camera-use) is about safety, and not about revenue enhancing,” said Tracy, who, along with House Transportation Committee Chairman Phillip Johnson, R-Pegram, will play a key role in moderating traffic camera debates and molding whatever legislation might ultimately alight on Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.

Tracy said he’s open to supporting legislation that prohibits local jurisdictions from entering into agreements with camera vendors wherein the company is paid a per-ticket fee by the city or county.

“Even though they may not be doing it as an incentive to write more tickets, (in) the perception of the public it is,” said Tracy. “So if the community would pay a monthly fee to the vendor, instead of on a per-ticket basis, it takes that out of the question. Of course, some of the folks are not going to be happy with that.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety this week released a study (pdf) claiming that red-light cameras save lives.

According to an IIHS press release:

Red light cameras saved 159 lives in 2004-08 in 14 of the biggest US cities, a new analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows. Had cameras been operating during that period in all large cities, a total of 815 deaths would have been prevented.

…Looking at the 99 US cities with populations over 200,000, the researchers compared those with red light camera programs to those without. Because they wanted to see how the rate of fatal crashes changed after the introduction of cameras, they compared two periods, 2004-08 and 1992-96. Cities that had cameras during 1992-96 were excluded from the analysis, as were cities that had cameras for only part of the later study period.

An article critical of the study also appeared this week that suggested IIHS employed an “overly simplistic (research) method” and purposefully skewed the findings to support the political objectives of major automobile insurance firms that support the organization.

A recent review of traffic camera safety by The Economist showed inconclusive effectiveness.

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