A Colorado House committee Wednesday rejected what has become an annual attempt to kill off or curb cameras that record drivers going through red lights at intersections or failing to stop completely before making right turns.
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The use of such cameras has proven controversial in Colorado and beyond. Some say the cameras improve safety. Others say they are just a fund-raising mechanism.
House Bill 1099, a bipartisan measure proposed by Reps. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, and Steve Humphrey, R-Alt, would have repealed authorization for the state, a city or county to use automated vehicle identification systems, including red-light cameras, to identify violators of traffic laws and issue citations based on photographic evidence. Cameras or other automated systems would have required voter approval.
A similar proposal, which would have banned the cameras outright, was twice vetoed by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper.
This year’s bill didn’t make it out of the House Committee on Transportation and Local Government, where it was voted down 8-3. Rep Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs, joined Democrats on the committee in defeating it.
“Now is not the time to restrict traffic safety measures. It’s a time to invest in them,” said Colorado Springs Police Cmdr. Adrian Vasquez, who testified against the bill. “The data show (red-light cameras) work.”
The Colorado Springs Police Department installed red-light cameras last fall at four intersections in hopes of reducing fatal crashes after a record 48 people died in wrecks or were struck while walking on city streets last year. Six more might be added this year.
Former Police Chief Pete Carey stressed that red-light cameras save lives, but the department still has received significant pushback, including that the cameras’ purpose is to raise revenue for the city and that they are either faulty or designed to trap drivers.
Aurora voters recently decided to eliminate their city’s red-light cameras, Melton noted.
“It really came down to an issue of, is this increasing public safety, or is this just increasing revenue?” he said.
Some cities pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from the cameras, Melton said. Denver recently took in nearly $3 million, and Aurora’s revenue was about $1 million before the program was eliminated, he said.
In addition, accidents don’t necessarily decrease after cameras are installed, Melton said. Rear-end accidents often become more frequent.
“That can be just as dangerous when you’re talking about whiplash and injuries to your spinal cord,” he said.
Not so, said Denver Police Lt. Robert Rock. Rear-end crashes might increase, but those are far less dangerous than broadside collisions. Red-light cameras help reduce more serious crashes, he said.
“Vehicles are not designed to provide as much protection on the side,” Rock said.
John Henry, of the nonprofit Drive Smart Colorado, said the cameras are an invaluable tool that free officers for other enforcement and make roads safer.
“The camera does not assess what a motorist is transporting, does not assess whether the driver is licensed,” Henry said, but they’re effective at dangerous intersections.
In explaining their opposition, Democratic Reps. Rochelle Galindo of Greeley and Edie Hooton of Boulder said cities and counties should control their red-light camera programs.