Traffic cameras are proving increasingly popular with US communities, and state lawmakers are scrambling to keep up, says James Tuton, president of American Traffic Solutions (ATS).
Several US state legislatures have this year wrestled with proposed laws regulating the burgeoning American photo traffic safety industry. In just 20 years, photo enforcement in America has grown from one small Arizona town to more than 350 communities in 27 states.
Most of these programs were established in the past five years as technology has improved along with public acceptance of speed and red-light cameras.
State lawmakers are scrambling to keep up with this public safety trend along with the continuing technological improvements. This has led to a patchwork of local and state laws and regulations rather than a national consensus about how the US is going to use, monitor and regulate photo enforcement.
Face the music
For example, four of the 27 states using photo enforcement hold the actual drivers liable and require clear photos of both the drivers’ faces and their license plates. The majority of states treat violations like parking tickets and hold the registered owner of the vehicle responsible for speeding or running red lights violations caught on camera.
This year, New Jersey passed legislation creating a five-year pilot program for photo enforcement. Louisiana passed legislation codifying violations as non points infractions. Massachusetts and Wisconsin are in the process of trying to get legislation passed to enable photo-enforcement cameras statewide. Similar bills to expand photo enforcement programs in Alabama, Illinois, New York and Missouri failed in the most recent legislative sessions.
In the absence of enabling state legislation, many communities are adopting their own local ordinances to move forward with photo speed and red-light enforcement programs. A bill in the Florida legislature failed despite overwhelming public support, but that hasn’t stopped more than 20 communities from establishing their own programs using their home rule powers. Arizona has no enabling legislation regulating photo enforcement in local communities but nearly every major city in that state has established photo safety programs.
States seek a share
Given the tough economic situation and lagging state revenues, there is clearly a trend toward state legislatures trying to assert either control over local programs or to grab a share of the revenues being generated by photo enforcement programs. Texas has a law that sets the fine for red-light running (US$75 per occurrence) and requires that half the net revenue after costs goes to the State Trauma Fund. Missouri tried, but failed, to make all local photo enforcement programs register with that state’s department of transportation and pay an annual US$500 fee to the state and send all other revenue to the schools. New Mexico passed a law that also set the maximum fines at US$75 and designated that most of the revenue generated in the state’s largest city must flow to the state.
The most sweeping legislation this session occurred in Arizona, home to America’s two largest photo enforcement vendors. At the urging of the governor, Arizona passed legislation mandating that the state’s Department of Public Safety will establish and manage a new speed and red-light camera program that will bring more than 100 new cameras to the state in its first year of operation. After expenses are deducted, the net revenues – which are estimated to be as high as US$90 million a year – will flow into Arizona’s general fund. The new legislation also prohibits the state from reporting photo-generated traffic tickets to insurance companies or the Motor Vehicle Department for assessment of demerit points.
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