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Originally published January 24, 2010 at 9:41 PM | Page modified January 24, 2010 at 9:41 PM

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Red-light cameras on trial in Olympia

The cameras that nab red-light runners around the state could become less profitable under legislation now being considered in Olympia.

Kitsap Sun

OLYMPIA — The cameras that nab red-light runners around the state could become less profitable under legislation now being considered in Olympia.

State Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, has sponsored a bill that would cap fines at $25 and require yellow lights to last at least four seconds at intersections where the cameras are used. A Senate bill, introduced earlier this month, would reduce fines to $42.

In Seattle, Bellevue and Bremerton, red-light camera violations now carry a $124 fine.

Hurst, who spent 25 years in law enforcement, said the timing of yellow lights is the most important part of his bill. While use of the cameras is comparatively new in Washington state, other cities that use them around the country have been tempted to reduce the time the yellow light runs to generate more infractions, Hurst said.

More infractions means more money but also more accidents. "Now they're actually killing their citizens to make money off these things," Hurst said.

The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported earlier this month that studies of the first year of a red-light enforcement program in Spokane actually saw an increase in accidents and injuries.

Seattle's Police Department evaluated the city's program after its second year in 2008, and determined that it did not have enough cameras or experience with them to draw definitive conclusions about the effect of the cameras on traffic accidents.

"There is little evidence that cameras have decreased the frequency of all auto crashes or of the more dangerous angle collisions after two years of operation," the December 2008 report states.

In Bremerton, however, police reported a decline in the number of accidents.

Bremerton Lt. Pete Fisher said the city videotaped infractions before implementing the program. Once the city started sending out tickets, violations and collisions went down by between a third and a half, he said.

Bremerton has not modified the length of yellow lights since the cameras were installed, Fisher said. Fisher didn't have the data in front of him, but he said he believes Bremerton's yellow lights last 3.5 seconds, followed by a one-second pause before the opposing light turns green.

Hurst said the four-second requirement would be key to ensuring intersections with cameras are safer. The secondary issue, he said, is that the cameras turn public safety into revenue generation, which he said corrupts the process.

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He said some Washington communities used to encourage police officers to write massive amounts of tickets to generate revenues. The state took measures to reduce fines, making traffic laws sustainable to enforce without being profit centers, he said.

Now that cameras are providing the enforcement, however, local communities are seeing the appeal of automated traffic citations.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Committee on Transportation on Wednesday.

Hurst said the companies that operate the cameras are so well represented in Olympia he was surprised the bill was scheduled for a hearing at all.

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