Red-light-camera bill dies: Senator still doubts devices make intersections safer

Last month, we spoke with Senator Scott Renfroe, sponsor of Senate Bill 50, which would have banned red-light cameras at intersections, as well as the use of photos for issuing tickets.

However, the measure failed to get out of the Senate's transportation committee, despite what Renfroe thought was a compelling case against the gadgets.

Renfroe sees red-light cameras as being more about generating revenue than enhancing safety -- and he believes that other methods can be more effective when it comes to reducing crashes. For instance, a study in Texas showed that accidents at given intersections were halved simply by keeping the yellow light on for one second longer. In contrast, shortening the yellow light doubled pile-ups.

Nonetheless, numerous law-enforcement representatives testified against Renfroe's bill, and he believes "the committee liked what the police officers had to say about the cameras -- and they didn't really listen to the other studies or to the citizens.

"The question I had for every department that testified against the bill was, 'What other engineering have you done at your intersections?'" he continues. "And I never really got an answer from anyone other than Cherry Hills, who said they hadn't done anything else. There are a lot of things that appear to help safety, including extending yellow lights and putting in better, brighter lights. But the studies we presented didn't sway the committee at all."

Safety is Renfroe's primary focus, he stresses -- but it's not the only one. "Obviously, there are concerns about Big Brother and government. There's the question of 'Are we going too far with this and encroaching on people's privacy and the right to address your accuser?' It's kind of crazy when you look at the system and what we have in place: They send you a ticket in the mail and people pay it without questioning it when you don't really have to pay it. If it doesn't go on your record and doesn't go on your insurance -- if it doesn't do any of these things -- then why are we collecting money on it?"

The cash will keep flowing in the near term: The committee defeated the bill by a five-to-two margin, with Senator Steve King specifying that his "no" vote was motivated by his preference for local control -- the desire to let individual communities decide if red-light cameras are right for them. But Renfroe says he'll continue to do research into the subject with an eye toward potentially raising it again in the future.

"I was disappointed to see it go down," he acknowledges. "Other states seem to be moving away from this, and hopefully Colorado will continue to look at it."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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