Sometimes, the only way to fix something hopelessly stuck is to bang on it with a hammer.
It’s time to let state lawmakers knock good sense into cities like Denver and Aurora with House Bill 1098. The measure would outlaw robot-camera-traffic enforcement across the state.
Like many cities and newspapers, we fought this measure in the Legislature last year. Not because we think so-called red-light cameras and similar devices are anything but money-making nuisances backed by mislead police departments and cities, but because the issue is one for local communities, not the state, to decide.
That was then. This is now.
Aurora and a growing number of Colorado towns and cities are increasing the number of these odious devices set up at intersections everywhere. In the case of Aurora, city lawmakers purposely worked to do an end-run around the possibility that a red-light camera ban might pass, signing yet a new contract to keep the cash coming into Aurora coffers.
These tickets are no small problem. Last year, Aurora issued more than 60,000 of them, raking in about $3.4 million. A lot of the cash from these programs go to the companies that lease the systems to governments eager to use them, but these glowing cash cows have become big, big money for communities across the state.
It’s the multi-billion industry hawking these systems that provides “data” to cities, showing how much safer intersections are that install them. But there are no independent, credible studies showing they do anything more than create revenue streams for cities, and in many cases, inflict new dangers on motorists and pedestrians. A local analysis completed by police is interesting, but it’s far from convincing that these devices do much good, and they can do serious harm.
Here are some facts:
• Intersections that are redesigned or change yellow-light length are made much more safer and see far fewer accidents than intersections installing red-light cash cows. About 80 percent of red-light runners run the light within the first second of a red light, according to studies completed by traffic departments in Texas and California. Those states showed a reduction of about 70 percent of red-light violations just by increasing yellow-light times by three seconds or less.
• Cities who use these robot-camera devices give them priority over traffic-light synchronization, which is one of the most effective ways to reduce car crashes.
• The delay between the offense and the punishment is often weeks long. A cop pulling over a driver and issuing a ticket has an immediate impact on a driver. Everyone knows what seeing a cop car does to everyone within eye-shot. But just another bill in the mail, easily avoided by savvy residents, does nothing to change driver behavior.
• These systems only focus on one type of scofflaw. They do nothing to stop or prevent reckless, careless and dangerous drivers, which cause the majority of crashes everywhere.
Since cities, including Aurora, can’t see past the cash, we can’t ignore the wisdom of House Bill 1098, prohibiting cities and counties from inflicting this mess on state residents. This measure, like last year, has bi-partisan support from state lawmakers like Aurora Democratic state Sen. Morgan Carroll and Republican state Senate President Bill Cadman. Similar heavyweight and bi-partisan support has lined up behind the bill in the state House.
Even Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter from Golden has jumped behind banning these devices, sponsoring a bill in Congress that may not go anywhere but sends a loud message that this is the wrong way to raise city tax dollars.
Local control is important, but using the legislative hammer to put this red-light cash cow out of our misery is more important. End it.
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