- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001

A House transportation subcommittee next week will hold a hearing on red-light cameras and their effect on drivers' privacy rights and whether localities are putting revenue ahead of public safety in using the cameras, House aides said yesterday.
"We are happy to see them," said Richard Diamond, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Rep. Dick Armey, Texas Republican and a leading opponent of the cameras.
"I am sure it is going to look at privacy and the constitutional questions they raise," Mr. Diamond said of what Mr. Armey expects of the hearing. "This is the first time there has been national scrutiny given to these devices."
The hearing by the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on highways and transit is scheduled for Tuesday and was prompted by Mr. Armey's request for a hearing and a General Accounting Office report on federal involvement in funding and operating the cameras. The GAO report is expected to be completed within a year.
A list of witnesses has not been set, but a House source said Mr. Armey is expected to testify before the panel, which is led by Rep. Tom Petri, Wisconsin Republican. In addition, a police officer from Maryland, as well as opponents and supporters of the cameras from across the country, are expected to attend, a House aide said.
Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, said the hearing should shed light on how cameras invade drivers' privacy and are used by local jurisdictions to generate revenue from traffic tickets. He cited the District collecting revenue from its cameras, with the city expected to net $117 million by 2004 from red-light-camera violations.
As of last month, the city had collected more than $12 million from 230,000 violations issued since its red-light-camera program began in 1999. The city's contractor, Lockheed Martin IMS, expects to collect more than $44 million by 2004 from the cameras.
"It certainly is appropriate to start shedding some light on this," Mr. Barr said. "This is a problem that is affecting citizens in jurisdictions all across the country."
Mr. Barr said the House Judiciary Committee, on which he serves, expects to examine the constitutional and privacy questions raised by red-light and speed photo-radar cameras.
He said the District's involvement with the cameras has "sparked" concern among lawmakers. Particularly disturbing, he said, are the 80,000 speeding tickets a month the District expects to issue once police start using photo-radar cameras beginning Aug. 1. The District currently issues about 10,000 speeding tickets a year.
"It is something that is very visible and people can relate to," Mr. Barr said.
Justin McNaull, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, agreed with Mr. Barr that hearings are needed to examine the issue.
"There is a value to it. There are a lot of concerns on the mind of the public and in the mind of the legislators," Mr. McNaull said. "We need some accepted standards for these programs to accomplish their safety goals and not simply generate revenue."
Kevin P. Morison, a spokesman for the D.C. police, said the 39 red-light cameras in the city prevent accidents and save lives. The hearing, he said, should show they are an effective public-safety tool.
"There has been a 55 percent reduction in the number of red-light violations" since the cameras were put in place, Mr. Morison said. "We are trying to protect the public, and that is a goal I think everyone can share in."

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