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Traffic camera bill awaits hearing


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POSTED: Monday, March 23, 2009

A bill to install cameras at intersections in Hawaii to catch red-light runners is awaiting a hearing before the state Senate committees on transportation and the Judiciary.

State Rep. Joe Souki, who has introduced the measure every year since 2002, says he is frustrated that it keeps getting held.

“;Don't they want to save lives?”; he asks of his fellow legislators.

Souki's bill, House Bill 145, would allow counties to set up the system and give profits made from the tickets back to the counties.

He said he expects the cameras eventually to win approval in Hawaii.

“;But every year we delay, there's one additional life that can be lost,”; he said.

The camera manufacturers and the nonprofit Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, a group funded by auto insurers, argue that the cameras save lives and ultimately cut costs. They estimate the cameras save about $14 billion annually, largely by reducing emergency-room trips, lowering insurance rates and cutting medical bills.

But a 2005 study by the Federal Highway Safety Administration found that after installation of red-light cameras, right-angle or T-bone crashes dropped 28 percent, while rear-end crashes climbed 8 percent.

The researchers found that with property damage included, each site saw a $40,000 annual drop in damage.

Richard Retting, a former senior transportation engineer and lead researcher who left the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety in September, said there is no debate that the cameras cut down on red-light running, but that their effect on crash severity is less certain.

Still, use of the cameras is growing in U.S. cities.

In Clive, Iowa, one of the cameras was responsible for giving Richard Tarlton his first ticket in more than 60 years of driving. But the 76-year-old said that as long as the cameras help police become more efficient, he is all for it.

“;If the policemen use their time and do police work, that's great,”; Tarlton said.

Aaron Quinn, spokesman for the Wisconsin-based National Motorists Association, said there are cheaper safety alternatives to red-light cameras, including lengthening yellow-light times.

“;We say the red-light camera wouldn't have stopped anyone from getting hit,”; Quinn said. “;Once (a city) sees one city getting it miles away, and that first city makes a bunch of money, they want to do it, too. It's like a virus.”;

In St. Peters, Mo., a city of 55,000, red-light cameras resulted in 3,203 tickets issued from January 2007 to September 2008 and drew a total of $235,973. The city issued 14,836 traffic tickets in fiscal year 2006, but that jumped to 21,745 in 2008, the first full fiscal year with the cameras.

The largest red-light camera company, Redflex Traffic Systems of Scottsdale, Ariz., operates red-light or speed cameras in 22 states and added 79 cities last year. It signed a $32 million maintenance contract with Chicago last fall, and in just the last three weeks of last year, Redflex added five new cities.