EDITORIAL: Putting the brakes on a statewide ban on red-light cameras

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Few things are as discouraging as is asking for the government to keep on exploiting the people it serves, but then the state’s prolific red-light camera programs are discouraging on many levels.

grown upsDespite our intense dislike for robot-camera-traffic enforcement, real police and city lawmakers from Aurora and all over Colorado are absolutely right in insisting that either legislators or Gov. John Hickenlooper stop Senate Bill 14-181. The measure seeks to stop cities like Aurora from operating any traffic-camera enforcement programs. Aurora has several.

We want to be clear that we’ve found no compelling evidence that Aurora’s red-light program substantially reduces traffic crashes, or that it makes intersections any safer. In fact, common sense and several studies show that just the opposite is true. Fearing the dreaded flash-click and ticket associated with these systems, motorists slam on the brakes to accommodate the unnerving system, causing rear-end collisions and even more near-misses.

For years, we’ve lobbied the city council in this editorial space to scrap Aurora’s red-light system because it’s little more than an aggravating and blatant reach into the pocket of motoring scofflaws, caught on camera with their mouths open and cars running red lights or speeding past.

While support among city council members for the city’s red-light-camera program has waned during the past few years, its fiscal impact has blossomed. Aurora issued 61,000 red-light tickets last year, raking in about $3.4 million. While much of that cash goes to the company that runs the system for Aurora, the program has become big, big money here and in other communities across the Colorado.

In fact, the red-light-tickets have become so infamous that a majority of state lawmakers are willing, nay, anxious, to outlaw them altogether. But as much as we’d like to see them all go, that’s not a decision state legislators should be making.

In the hierarchy of government, the feds hand out highway design standards but essentially defer to states on traffic issues. In Colorado, driving and traffic engineering issues are decided by the state, but decisions about the safety and function of individual streets and intersections have long been delegated to local jurisdictions, and for good reason. There simply are few rules or regulations that make sense in every traffic instance in every community. The state is a hodgepodge of roads and highways, made even more complicated by unrestrained traffic growth in the Aurora metro area. While the state gets to decide that turning right on red lights is legal, individual cities and counties must decide where such turns are and are not permitted.

State lawmakers are simply usurping local control of the issue, and wrongly so. It’s surprising to see the state rally for this cause. Clearly, these red-light cameras are hated that much. This is a state that can’t or won’t even pass a motorcycle helmet law despite the clear and valid argument for it. And state and local governments are chock-full of nuisances far more egregious than red-light cameras. Denver makes millions by ticketing homeowners for parking in front of their own homes on street-sweeping days. More than one small Colorado town fills its city coffers by aiming radar guns at motorists rolling in too fast on highways.

But it’s a job for residents to force local leaders to end these corruptions, not the state. Cash-strapped towns using traffic cameras to enforce red-light-rules near schools or other heavy-pedestrian areas could be warranted or needed. But it’s a decision only local government can make.