Traffic camera policy adopted

Review finds severe crashes down at crossings with cameras

More motorists have been getting into fender-benders but the number of fatalities and serious injuries has fallen significantly since red-light cameras were installed at 88 intersections on Missouri highways, state transportation officials said Wednesday.

Declaring the experiment a success, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission unanimously approved a policy that outlines how cities and counties can apply to get the cameras installed on local highways. The cameras are generally used to catch drivers running red lights or speeding near schools, construction zones and other dangerous stretches of roadway.

The Department of Transportation had suspended the installation of cameras this fall on state highways pending a review of their effectiveness. The review found that traffic accidents rose 14 percent at intersections with red-light cameras, primarily because of more rear-end collisions as drivers braked for the stop lights, officials said Wednesday.

But right-angle accidents — where the front of one vehicle hits the side of another vehicle — involving death or serious injury declined 45 percent at those intersections, and severe crashes of all types fell 12 percent.

“This is the bottom line — they work. Red-light cameras work,” said Don Hillis, the department’s highway system management director.

The results prompted the commission, which oversees the Transportation Department, to formally adopt its first policy governing the cameras. The policy requires both a traffic violation and engineering study of intersections before cameras can be placed at a location. It also dictates that tickets stemming from the cameras be issued by police officers and that signs be posted to warn motorists that the cameras are in use.

The policy, which applies to all state-maintained highways, essentially affirms a police tactic used in about 30 Missouri communities.

Hazelwood Police Chief Carl Wolf said the cameras curb bad driving. Since his St. Louis suburb installed traffic cameras five years ago, the number of red-light violations has fallen 58 percent, he said.

“They’ve adjusted their behavior on what they do at red lights, and that’s the whole purpose of the cameras,” said Wolf, co-chairman of Missouri Families for Safer Roads, which supports traffic enforcement cameras.

But not all communities have found the cameras worthwhile.

Last week, the City Council in the eastern Missouri town of Washington voted to discontinue its camera contract with American Traffic Solutions when it expires in March. Although injury accidents were down, Police Chief Kenneth Hahn told council members he didn’t believe the cameras had much impact on the overall safety of the two intersections where they are used.

Some legislators have tried unsuccessfully to prohibit or limit the use of cameras to enforce traffic laws. They contend that the cameras infringe on individual rights, though courts generally have upheld the constitutionality of the cameras.

Last April, Missouri senators voted 23-8 to add a provision banning red-light enforcement cameras to a bill dealing with transportation issues. But the provision failed to win final legislative approval.

Transportation commissioner Stephen Miller, of Kansas City, acknowledged that traffic cameras can be controversial and asked agency staff to provide updates on how the state policy gets implemented.

“We want to make certain that we are hitting this mark just right — balancing the safety for our citizens against individual freedoms and fairness as well,” he said Wednesday.

The policy limits the use of cameras for enforcing speed limits to school zones, highway work zones or “travel safe zones,” which have above-average crash problems. The state so far has approved four safe travel zones: on Interstate 70 in St. Louis County, U.S. 50 in Jackson County, U.S. 67 in Butler County and Missouri Highway 34 in Bollinger County.

The state policy will require all cities or counties using traffic cameras to file reports each year by Jan. 31, detailing the number of traffic accidents and citations issued for violations.

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