Red-light cameras that have been gaining a foothold in many states face a growing public backlash and outright removal.
The cameras, billed as safety devices since their introduction in the USA nearly 20 years ago, are increasingly viewed by many motorists as unreasoning revenue generators for hard-up local governments.
Maine, Mississippi and Montana banned red light cameras last year, joining at least four other states, Nevada, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Wisconsin, says Anne Teigen, a transportation specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. State senators in Missouri and Tennessee are sponsoring legislation that would limit cameras. Elsewhere:
• Voters in three cities — Chillicothe and Heath, Ohio, and College Station, Texas— passed referendums in November banning the cameras. "Red-light cameras have never survived a voter referendum," says Greg Mauz, a longtime camera opponent who has researched them extensively.
• Nearly 1,000 motorists in south Florida have filed 18 lawsuits against the cameras, saying the devices are unconstitutional because they force drivers to prove their innocence rather than the government to prove their guilt. "I felt as though I had no say," Beverly Baird Boothe, a retired educator, says of her appeal of a citation in Orlando. "There is no democratic process."
• An Illinois lawmaker who helped bring red-light cameras to the state in 2006 says he'll introduce bills this year to sharply limit their use. "They were sold to us in a different manner than what they're being used for," says state Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat. "The municipalities have put them in areas where they're just to make revenue." He says that since 2006, crashes have increased at half the intersections in Illinois that have cameras, stayed the same at 25% and decreased at 25%.
The rate of communities installing cameras slowed dramatically last year. In 2009, legislators in 30 states debated 90 camera bills, most of which would have expanded their use, Teigen says.
Camera supporters say cameras make intersections safer. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) studies in Fairfax, Va., and Oxnard, Calif., found that camera enforcement reduced red-light running violations by about 40%.
Red-light cameras are used in more than 400 communities in 26 states and the District of Columbia. "Cameras are an effective deterrent to people running red lights," says Anne McCartt, vice president for research at IIHS.
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