- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

A House transportation panel yesterday took conflicting testimony hailing red-light cameras as life-saving devices that curb aggressive driving and as revenue-generating machines that violate drivers' privacy and right to due process.
"Issues such as privacy and legal implications are intertwined with red-light cameras," said Rep. Tom Petri, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on highways and transit.
Rep. Bob Barr warned that red-light cameras — which have been used in the District since 1999 — turn decades of American jurisprudence on its head. "What we see is the tip of the iceberg," the Georgia Republican said, adding that cameras violate various constitutional provisions, including the right to face one's accuser and a presumption of innocence.
But Judith Lee Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said law-enforcement agencies' increased use of red-light cameras in the past few years addresses the epidemic of red-light running.
Miss Stone said about 260,000 crashes are caused by red-light running, with more than 750 of them fatal. Other supporters of the cameras, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, say cameras have reduced by 29 percent the number of traffic accidents with injuries.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey yesterday did not appear before the panel as scheduled. But in his written remarks, the Texas Republican said he does not agree with safety advocates who say a small intrusion of privacy is worthwhile as the cameras save lives. "I say that our technology should adapt to our Constitution and laws, not the other way around," Mr. Armey said.
Some members quoted from George Orwell's novel "1984" about a "Big Brother" government intruding in citizens' everyday life, saying the red-light cameras are the first step to an erosion of privacy. "I think we are coming into something George Orwell didn't envision," said Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, Idaho Republican.
Rep. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, said much of the talk about the cameras violating privacy and the law is hyperbole. "Yes, this is a free country," he said. "But it's refereed freedom."
Mr. Oberstar also questioned why Congress was involving itself in local matters. "[If] there is a remedy, fix it with local government. It is not for the Congress to fix," he said.
Citing the revenue generated by cameras in traffic tickets, Mr. Barr and other subcommittee members said local governments, including the District, seem to put making a profit for itself and its contractors before public safety.
"You can never satisfy government's appetite for money," said Rep. John J. "Jimmy" Duncan Jr., Tennessee Republican. "This is not about safety, it's primarily about money."
House members noted that the District has collected more than $12 million from 230,000 red-light tickets since it began its camera program in August 1999.
Starting today, the District anticipates sending out 960,000 speeding tickets this year as a result of its new photo radar cameras, which the city expects to generate more than $11 million in fines. Lockheed Martin IMS, the contractor for both of the District's camera programs, collects $32 from each $75 red-light fine.
Police officials say that the cameras have cut red-light running by 55 percent, and that the number of speeding citations they expect to issue only shows how rampant the speeding problem is.
Lawmakers yesterday questioned the wisdom of private, for-profit companies assuming traffic-enforcement duties.
"It's a bounty system," Rep. Timothy V. Johnson, Illinois Republican, said of the fee-based contracts that cities have with private companies.
Privately, Lockheed officials have said they disdain fee-based contracts because of the bad public image it has generated. Instead, company officials say they would rather have a fixed-fee contract.
Mr. Barr said more hearings are scheduled for the Judiciary Committee, where constitutional questions will be answered more thoroughly.
Several House Republicans will attach a rider to the District's 2002 appropriations budget to force the city to curtail its use of cameras, aides said.

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