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Traffic Cameras Welcomed

October 15, 2000

Later this month, an automatic camera will be placed at the intersection of Sherman Way and Winnetka Avenue in the San Fernando Valley to help identify and ticket red-light runners. Expect an uproar when the first tickets start arriving in the mail and a noisy few on the receiving end start crying Big Brother.

But the real outrage is better reserved for drivers who run red lights. Call them scofflaws who race through stoplights deliberately or call them ordinary people who, like many of us, are in a hurry or are momentarily distracted. The excuse makes no difference to those who die or suffer crippling injuries as a result.

And die and suffer they do. Red-light runners caused more than 800 deaths and 200,000 injuries across the country in 1999, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The use of cameras has helped lessen that toll. In neighboring Ventura County, for example, the cities of Oxnard and Ventura have seen a 40% to 50% decline in collisions caused by red-light violators since installing cameras at high-volume intersections.

Here in Los Angeles, cameras will be mounted on poles at four intersections, including the one in the Valley. More will be added if the program works as expected.

A camera will be triggered only when a motorist enters an intersection against a red light--not when entering a yellow light or turning right on red. The photos must clearly show the driver's face and front license plate for a citation to be issued.

Such precautions are not enough for critics who, in a miracle of consensus building, range from civil libertarians to conservative talk-radio hosts. They complain about everything from a violation of privacy to an abandonment of community policing--never mind that the use of cameras frees officers who might be needed somewhere else.

Some object to the fact that the cameras not only pay for themselves but generate revenue. (Lockheed Martin IMS, which won the contract to operate the cameras, will pay for the installation and maintenance in exchange for one-third of each ticket. The fine for running a red-light was recently raised to a stiff--and impression-forming--$270.) No-cost government services--now there's an unusual complaint.

The naysayers may make a lot of noise, but we believe that they will find themselves in the minority. A survey conducted by the Federal Highway Administration found that 96% of those polled feared being hit by someone running a red light. They will likely welcome a program that saves lives, improves traffic safety and pays for itself.

Paying a hefty fine is, after all, the least they have to fear if they end up being photographed in the act of running a red light. Consider how much worse the consequences could be.

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