Missouri Lawmakers Target Municipal Traffic Cameras

By CHRIS BLANK | February 18, 2014

Missouri lawmakers could clear up a legal thicket entangling communities’ red light cameras while also applying the brakes to cameras designed to nab speeders.

speed cameraSeveral recent court rulings have raised new concerns about red light cameras while complaints have arisen that rules for speed cameras are too lax. One St. Louis County lawmaker representing an area with speed cameras likens it to a post-apocalyptic movie.

“There’s no rules when it comes to it,” said Rep. Clem Smith, D-Velda Village Hills.

A House committee this past week endorsed legislation sponsored by Rep. Dave Hinson that he said seeks a realistic approach.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission’s approval would be required to put cameras on state highways, and communities seeking to place them elsewhere would need to follow specific requirements.

Speed cameras for roads not part of the state’s highway system would be limited to school zones, work zones and areas where serious traffic accidents are excessive. Signs would need to indicate the speed limit and warn of photo enforcement. Another sign would identify when drivers have exited the camera enforcement zone. In work zones, the cameras would be limited to areas where the normal speed limit is at least 60 mph and has been reduced because of the construction. Cameras only could be used when workers are present.

Using cameras to combat red-light running has been debated for years. Supporters contend they reduce the number of serious accidents and discourage unsafe driving, but critics have questioned the cameras’ constitutionality and whether revenue or public safety is the impetus.

Others critical of the red light cameras have proposed banning new cameras or phasing out existing ones. Hinson, R-St. Clair, said outright prohibitions have not passed the Legislature and that a more modest approach could establish limits.

“Instead of spinning our wheels on something else, let’s try to reach an agreement,” Hinson said.

The legislation also specifies that traffic infractions captured by cameras would not lead to points on a motorist’s driving record and that the maximum fine for violations is $135. Appellate courts in Kansas City and St. Louis in recent cases have raised concerns about local red-light ordinances based in part on how driver’s license points are handled. The courts have ruled that contrary to the ordinances, running a red light is a moving violation and that Missouri law requires points be assessed. Appeals have been filed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

The St. Louis suburb of Arnold in 2006 was the first Missouri community to install red light cameras, and the validity of ordinances has been upheld in previous court challenges. The Missouri Municipal League said more than 30 cities have ordinances authorizing the cameras. However, a few have stopped because of the legal fight.

American Traffic Solutions has installed and operated cameras in many places. Edward Dowd, an attorney representing the company, told lawmakers that a bill stating no points are assessed would become the policy.

“That’s the law that the municipalities can then follow and put these cameras where they think it’s most beneficial to protect their kids and citizens from red-light runners,” Dowd said.

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