Red-light cameras are about revenue, not safety, says senator pushing ban

Red light photo tickets are a hot topic in Denver, with councilwomen Jeanne Faatz and Mary Beth Susman both questioning the program, especially as it applies to citations for crossing the white stop line -- an infraction whose fine was halved this week, but not eliminated.

Now, the issue could make a stir statewide thanks to a new bill backed by Senator Scott Renfroe.

If approved, Senate Bill 50, which is tentatively scheduled to go before the transportation committee on February 7, will "ban red-light cameras and the use of photos of traffic violations for ticketing people, as well as the data base for that information," Renfroe says.

In some ways, Renfroe is an unlikely backer for such a measure. After all, he notes, "I'm a local control guy" -- one reason Liberty Watch named him a Guardian of Liberty, along with nine other fellow Republicans, at a ceremony this week. However, he adds, "I think this is a statewide concern. I think we need to make it uniform across the state. And right now, I think it's pretty clear that what's going on in some cities -- not all of them, but some of them -- is that this is a revenue-generator. And it needs to be about safety."

In Renfroe's view, "there are a lot of ways a city can engineer safety into intersections without red light cameras -- things cities can do to make intersections safer without using Big Brother tactics."

Example: "There was a Texas transportation study that looked at three years' worth of police reports at 180 intersections in Texas that had a lot of issues with red light accidents. They found that making the yellow light one second longer reduced accidents by half, and shortening the yellow light by one second doubled the number of accidents."

Data like this suggests to Renfroe that red-light cameras are mainly about money -- and he understands how cities can become addicted to such cash infusions. "They're getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar," he maintains. "In Denver, they voted to cut down their white-line fee, but why not go one step further and refund people they gave tickets to and collected all that money? It's absurd the type of tickets they're handing out, and the exponential growth in the number of them since they recalibrated their equipment. That shows this is revenue-driven."

Renfroe has not personally received such a ticket, and he notes that there aren't any red-light cameras in his district. (He represents much of Weld County, including Greeley.) "But I have constituents send me bill ideas every day," he continues, "and I think this one came from e-mails last summer. I mentioned the idea at an event at CSU, and people there were very supportive."

They've got plenty of company on both sides of the ideological aisle, Renfroe believes. "I don't think this should be a partisan issue," he says. "I think this should be a safety issue. And since the bill was announced, I've had an overwhelming number of e-mails coming in, even from Democrats who'll explain, 'I support you on this.' So I definitely think this is an issue where we should be able to come together and put some common sense into what we're doing."

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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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