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Photo-red cameras survive challenge

February 4, 2014 | Virginia News

RICHMOND — Virginia localities that use cameras to detect and fine red-light violators can keep using them, a House of Delegates committee decided Tuesday.

The House Transportation Committee voted 13-6 to reject a bill from Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge County, that would have banned the cameras statewide. Nearly 20 uniformed police officers from camera-using cities watched the bill go down.

The cameras have been legal in some Virginia cities since 2007, have generated millions in revenue, and saved untold lives, according to supporters.

Cline said all of that has come at the price of civil liberty. Some statistics, he said, show an increase in rear-end collisions when drivers slam on the brakes to avoid a $50 citation.

“We are trying to prevent an ever-encroaching area of government surveillance into our lives and into our society,” Cline said, adding another unsuccessful bill in the General Assembly this year sought to preserve the cameras’ data for use in criminal investigations.

“Tomorrow’s debate will be about how to use the video,” Cline said.

Virginia’s ACLU chapter sided with Cline.

Claire Guthrie Gastanaga of the ACLU said the rear-end crash data put safety into question, meaning lawmakers should ask, “How do you balance liberty and safety when the safety case is not compelling? Due process should be your overriding concern,” she said.

Steve Sellers, chief of police in Albemarle County, told the lawmakers his county has a camera at one intersection, and a statistical study shows it reduced violations, and wrecks, during the past three years.

“There is little debate that photo enforcement has changed driver behavior” at that intersection, Sellers said, and “that is what we want.”

Other traffic tools purchased with revenue from the camera, such as electronic message boards and radar equipment, contributed to safer driving county-wide, Sellers said.

“This is not about liberty balancing due process,” Sellers said. “This is about liberty balancing lives, saving lives, reducing injuries and reducing fatalities.”

Contact Ray Reed at (434) 385-5532 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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