Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Laser camera operator Luis Nieves of Affiliated Computer
Systems zoomed in on a computer monitor yesterday
to identify potential speeders in the back of an
unmarked van.

DOT calibrates
cameras to snap
traffic crime

Drivers who are seen speeding
or running red lights by the units
will be sent citations

By Rod Antone

Tony Vaughn doesn't think it likely that someone could drive so fast that his company's traffic cameras would be left with a blurry image of their license plate number.

Possible, yes, but not likely.

"We can take a clear picture of a car traveling 200 mph, and we've done that with aircraft taking off at speeds over 200 mph," said Vaughn, director of Poltech International. "We'll get their image."

Poltech International is supplying the laser/speed camera technology for the state Department of Transportation's Photo Enforcement Project.

The three-year project is set to launch next month and involves setting up cameras at 25 intersections and "speeding locations" in different parts of the island.

"The object of this program is not to see how many tickets we can issue. The object is to make our highways safer for everyone," said transportation spokeswoman Marilyn Kali. "The police do not have the ability to be everywhere at every time to catch every law violator, and we think that these cameras will help us."

Those caught by the cameras running red lights or speeding will be issued a warning beginning Monday, with regular citations issued to violators beginning Dec. 17.

The first intersections where the cameras will be set up are Pali Highway and School Street and Vineyard Boulevard and Punchbowl Street.

Kali said the project is an attempt to stem the injuries and deaths caused when motorists run traffic lights and speed. Transportation Department figures show that over the past five years, 266 people have died in speed-related crashes and 73 people have died in collisions at intersections.

"We're losing way too many lives," Kali said.

Intersections with the cameras will have a sign warning drivers that they are being monitored electronically, Kali said.

The cameras will be set off by sensors, located between the intersection and the solid white line where motorists are supposed to stop for a red light. Anyone crossing the line while the light is red activates the camera.

Manned cameras will be operated in vans parked along designated highways and freeways. Kali said operators will take pictures based simply on whether someone is traveling faster than the posted speed limit.

Honolulu City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said he expected opponents of the program to argue that the cameras violate privacy rights.

However, Brent White of the American Civil Liberties Union said he objects to the vendor being paid per ticket instead of a flat rate.

Affiliated Computer Services USA will operate and maintain the cameras as well as mail out the citations.

Robert Kane, a retired assistant chief with the Honolulu Police Department, will run ACS's Hawaii operation.

"The problem is when you have a private company doing this, decisions are not made based on safety for the community but on how you can maximize profits for the company," White said. "It's an incentive to stop as many people as possible."

Citations for running a red light will cost $77. The fine jumps to $102 if it is not paid within 15 days. A speeding ticket will cost $27 plus $5 for every mile over the limit. After 15 days the base fine jumps to $52.

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