Cameras can be good law-enforcement tool
Rep. Joe Souki has again proposed a measure that would allow cameras to catch motorists who run red lights.
THE stigma of the state's infamous "van cam" project remains four years after the failed program to catch speeding motorists was ditched, but Rep. Joe Souki is convinced that cameras can help in enforcing traffic laws.
Souki, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has again dusted off his perennial plan to use cameras, not for tagging speeders, but for nailing red-light runners.
The proposal deserves earnest consideration by the Legislature and should not be rejected because of the faulty program previously established.
Though statistics about the number of Hawaii motorists who race through red lights are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence indicates that drivers are increasingly ignoring traffic signals. Police officials are aware of the problem, but do not have enough officers to monitor intersections.
Souki has proposed an amendment to a bill introduced by Governor Lingle that would increase penalties for those who violate a current pedestrian safety law.
The amendment would allow county police departments, which enforce traffic regulations, to install and operate stationary cameras at intersections to photograph red-light violators. Fines collected would go to the counties.
The "van cam" program was handled by the state Department of Transportation, which contracted a private company to operate cameras from vans parked along roadways. Motorists complained that the company had an incentive for issuing tickets because it was paid for each citation rather than at a flat rate for doing the work. In addition, vehicle owners were held responsible even though they might not have been behind the wheel.
Souki proposed a similar red-light measure last year that corrected such problems. In that version, cameras would focus on a driver's face and the vehicle's owner would be allowed to challenge the allegation of being the driver. The new proposal would presumably have the same components.
A federal study has shown that red-light cameras at intersections are effective in decreasing traffic violations and accidents. In San Francisco, the cameras brought a 68 percent drop in infractions and in Los Angeles, a 92 percent reduction.
The cameras are as much about nabbing scofflaws as prompting motorists to think twice about running a red light. More important, they could save lives.
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