- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2001

LOS ANGELES — A California state senator is taking the Southern California rebellion against red-light cameras to the state Legislature, pushing a bill to control the placement of such cameras and demanding a comprehensive review of their legality and effectiveness.
"I am concerned that the purpose for the red light cameras has shifted to revenue enhancement, that the confidentiality intended has not been met, and that the enforcement authority may be improperly delegated" to private, for-profit companies, state Sen. Steve Peace wrote in requesting that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee begin an examination of the widely criticized devices. "At the same time, there is insufficient data to determine the effect of red light cameras on traffic safety."
Southern California has become a center of resistance to use of the cameras, which have spread to 30 cities and counties nationwide, including the District and several surrounding jurisdictions. In June, fierce criticism of the program and questions about its technical accuracy forced officials in San Diego to turn off their 19 cameras and conduct a thorough outside audit of the program.
A group of almost 400 motorists, meanwhile, challenged the automated tickets in court. A city judge refused to strike down the program as unconstitutional but said the system was so poorly run that the tickets became "untrustworthy" as evidence in court.
The bill being pushed through the state Legislature, sponsored by Mr. Peace, El Cajon Democrat, would require longer yellow-light cycles at intersections monitored by red-light cameras. Some cities in California use yellow-light cycles shorter than three seconds, which critics say give motorists too little time to stop and force them to run the red lights — and pay the $271 fine.
Mr. Peace's bill, which passed the Senate unanimously in June and appears poised to pass the state Assembly as well, would require cities using red-light cameras to boost the yellow-light cycles to as long as six seconds, depending on the speed limit through the intersection.
Mr. Peace was not available for comment on the bill, citing last-minute business as the state Legislature winds up its final two weeks of the session.
Staff said they are slightly worried that the bill might get lost in the crush of legislation and die before being passed in the Assembly, but the senator would reintroduce the bill next year if that happens.
Mr. Peace has been a critic of the red-light system for years. As chairman of the newly created Senate Committee on Privacy, he held hearings on the system in April.
He was worried that the system violated state law by allowing the private companies that install and operate the cameras nearly unfettered access to the photos snapped of motorists running red lights.
"The transfer of these images to the hands of private firms for profit is alarming," he said when he called the hearings. "These private firms now have access to our pictures and our DMV records, and they are being paid millions of dollars to do it."
Mr. Peace's bill originally demanded tighter privacy protection for the photos and DMV records, but the provision was removed by an Assembly committee.
Even if his yellow-light bill doesn't pass, Mr. Peace is hoping the state will conduct an audit of all the red-light systems in the state, looking at whether they are operated legally and accurately. In San Diego, Judge Ronald L. Styn has been harshly critical of the system, saying it appeared that the contractor that installed it, Lockheed Martin IMS, exercised too much control over the cameras, to the point of deciding who should receive a citation.
As an example, he pointed to the discovery by city employees that Lockheed Martin had moved the sensors in at least one intersection without informing the city.
Supporters of the cameras say the system reduces the dangerous practice of red-light running without incurring the steep cost of assigning live police officers to monitor the intersections continuously.
The city of West Hollywood, for example, claims that the number of red-light violations has dropped 36 percent, and that the number of related accidents has dropped 50 percent since the cameras were installed.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the city of Oxnard found that injury-producing automobile accidents dropped 29 percent at red-light camera-equipped intersections.
Critics, including House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, say such studies are flawed.
They also argue that cities tend to put the cameras at poorly designed intersections, or shorten yellow-light cycles, to force motorists to pay the fines as a way to boost hard-pressed local budgets.
Mr. Peace estimates that San Diego reaped $29 million in the first 18 months of the program.
Lockheed Martin IMS, which has been purchased by a Dallas-based company and is changing its name to Affiliated Computer Services, receives a percentage of the fine paid by a driver cited by the camera. In San Diego, the company receives $70 of the $271 fine.
The District has a similar system and, in response to widespread criticism, is considering a change to its contract with the company, removing the fee-per-ticket provision.
San Diego officials are considering the same move, based on criticism by Judge Styn and legislators such as Mr. Peace.
Mr. Peace said in June that he had hoped to shut down the state's camera system during the state audit, but his current bill does not go that far.
California is unusual among states that use red-light cameras because it chose to make the ticket a criminal violation, like a speeding ticket issued in person by a police officer. That means motorists caught by the camera are given negative points on their driving record and the violation is reported to insurance companies.


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