Sunday, January 31, 2010

Yes, Let's Take A Hard Look

There's an editorial in today's Spokesman Review in which they criticize Rep Christopher Hurst of Enumclaw and Sen Jim Kastama of Puyallup. Hurst has introduced HB 2780 and Kastama introduced SB 6410 concerning the use of automated traffic enforcement systems. The Review editorial board, along with most of the media, have focused only on the reduction of the fines.

There is no evidence that cities are raising huge sums, but the lower fines would ensure that the costs of installation and operation would exceed the amount collected. From Nov. 1, 2008, through Oct. 31, 2009, the city of Spokane netted $103,000 from Photo Red. The “profit” went into an account for traffic safety.

It’s too soon to tell if public safety has been improved. We believe greater publicity and promotion would help deter drivers. Certainly something needs to be done. A total of 5,690 tickets have been mailed to red light runners. That’s an alarming number of dangerous acts, and it’s absurd to equate them with something as benign as a parking violation.

If the program does not meet the goal of improving public safety, then the city can decide to discontinue the program. Cities can also act if the “cash cow” charge is proved to be true. But legislators shouldn’t be dictating the future of red light cameras based on suspicions.

Funny how their belief in greater publicity doesn't require the same level of evidence they demand of the legislators. But let's set that aside and read the bills instead. Doing so will show there's much more to them than lowering the fines.

Under current law the registered vehicle owner must pay the fine regardless who was driving the vehicle unless it was stolen, sold, or it was rented/leased as a part of their business. The house bill would let registered vehicle owners file a statement or testify that the vehicle was under the control of another person which relieves them from the requirement of paying the fine. The bill requires a minimum duration of four seconds for the yellow light at intersections using photo red enforcement. It changes the fine from not exceeding "the amount of a fine issued for other parking violations within the jurisdiction" to not exceeding $25.00.

By the way this remark by Officer Theresa Fuller is disingenuous at best.

The Spokane program is about safety, not revenue, Fuller said, although she questioned the comparison to a parking fine: “You’re not going to kill somebody not paying your parking meter. You can kill somebody running a red light.”

True, but the photo red fine is based on the maximum parking fine in the jurisdiction and we're getting off easy. More on that down below.

The senate bill would restrict the use of automated traffic safety systems to two-arterial intersections, railroad crossings, and school speed zones. Photos taken by the systems are restricted to showing only the vehicle and license plate. They must not reveal the faces of vehicle occupants. The senate bill does not modify the vehicle owner's responsibility that can only be overcome if the vehicle is stolen, sold or rented. And the fine for automated traffic safety camera systems is changed to "... not exceed the average amount of fines issued for other parking infractions within the jurisdiction." The problem I have here is that the method for determining the average is not spelled out.

The maximum parking violation is $250 for parking in a designated handicapped parking spot. Under the current law, this is the amount vehicle owners could be fined for photo red violations. The photo red fine in Spokane is $124. A normal parking violation is $15. Just taking the $250 and the $15 fines and the average is $132.50. In that case, the senate bill could raise the fine in Spokane, although under current law it could be raised a lot more. Granted, my figures are based on the only two parking fines I'm aware of and I would appreciate it if anyone has more to add. However, since the senate version doesn't state a method for determining the average, cities would be allowed to come up with the most creative--and lucrative--means for doing so.

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