San Diego Union-Tribune
Aug. 1, 2001
Red-light cameras debated
Hedgecock, others testify in House
By DANA WILKIE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- Congress yesterday stepped into one of the hottest
topics on America's roads: whether cities should use cameras to catch
motorists who run stoplights.
Testifying before a congressional committee, foes of the red-light surveillance
technology -- including San Diego radio talk show host Roger Hedgecock --
spoke of "Orwellian intrusions." Proponents pointed to a reduction in traffic
accidents. Also at issue was whether the cameras are installed to keep
motorists safe or to raise money for cities and the companies that install them.
Increasingly, local governments enter into partnerships with businesses to
place surveillance cameras at traffic intersections, then share the profits
generated from tickets. Fines range from $50 to $271.
In San Diego -- where residents have rebelled against the use of the cameras
-- the city contracted with Lockheed Martin IMS Corp. to install automated
cameras at 19 intersections.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Styn is scheduled to decide soon
whether to dismiss 290 red-light-camera citations on constitutional and other
grounds. The judge heard testimony last month about how the city runs the
Hedgecock, a former San Diego mayor and a host for KOGO radio, told a
House Transportation subcommittee that he wrecked his new car in a
rear-end collision when an allegedly short yellow traffic light turned red,
leading the driver of a commercial truck in front of him to slam on the brakes.
Foes of red-light cameras have done studies indicating that some cities
manipulated timing devices on traffic cameras to artificially raise the number of
red-light violations, and thereby raise revenue.
"My ingrained American instinct finds these camera crime-accusers repulsively unconstitutional -- Orwellian intrusions into liberty," Hedgecock said.
The subcommittee is studying whether it has jurisdiction over the issue.
Nineteen states use the devices, or are planning to install them. Eleven states
forbid their use. There are approximately 340 cameras at intersections in 30
cities across the nation.
Judith Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told the
subcommittee that at several intersections where cameras have been used,
violations and injuries have dropped.
"I seriously doubt anyone in this hearing room would ever question or oppose
proven technology that would eliminate near-misses or midair collisions by
airplanes," Stone said.
But others fear the technology will enable red-light cameras to photograph
individuals and that law enforcement will then be able to search through
records for warrants. They argue that automated enforcement begins with a
presumption of guilt and that innocent motorists are put in the position of
having to prove their innocence.
In 1999 there were 92,000 crashes and 950 deaths attributed to running red
lights, according to the House Transportation Committee. In that same year,
there were more than 2.8 million crashes at intersections, resulting in 8,000