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Photo enforcement: Bills would give Federal Way voters veto power over future cameras
Voters will have the power to reject new red light and speed zone photo enforcement devices if either of two bills pass in the Legislature.
Christopher Hurst (D-31st District), a former cop of 25 years, introduced House Bill 1098 and House Bill 1099, both addressing photo enforcement. Each bill would give voters the final say whenever a new camera is being proposed. The bills also address the timing of yellow light signals at intersections monitored by photo enforcement, and require cities to treat photo tickets like other traffic infractions.
The City of Federal Way is aware of the legislation, spokesman Chris Carrel said.
“We’re trying to find out more about the fine details and figure out what that means to our city,” he said.
Hurst said the legislation is needed for several reasons. The photo enforcement program has a high potential for abuse. In some cases it’s making monitored intersections more dangerous. Photo enforcement regulations, if not addressed by the Legislature, will be brought up by the public.
“If we don’t address this this legislative session, I can promise you there will be an issue on the ballot by someone,” Hurst said.
The bills require that each time a city wishes to add another camera, the issue must first be presented to voters on a general election ballot. If voters give the OK, the municipality can then install the device.
“The cities are going to have to guarantee their citizens they are going to use them responsibly,” Hurst said.
Federal Way has no plans to implement more enforcement cameras, either at intersections or in school zones, Carrel said. The goal was to improve safety at the city’s most dangerous intersections and school zones, and that is already being done with the existing cameras, he said.
“We have no plans for any additional red light cameras,” Carrel said. “There have been no discussions about expanding (the program).”
Two cameras are located at the intersection of South 348th Street and Enchanted Parkway. Four cameras are at the South 320th Street/Pacific Highway South intersection. Another two cameras monitor the South 312th Street/Pacific Highway South crossing. Speed enforcement cameras are at Saghalie Middle School, Twin Lakes Elementary and Panther Lake Elementary.
Though Federal Way has no plans to install more cameras, the existing ones are likely to stick around. In July, the city council extended Federal Way’s contract with American Traffic Solutions for enforcement cameras through 2013.
Yellow light signals
In some instances, photo enforcement is making intersections more dangerous, Hurst said. Some cities have shortened the duration of yellow light signals, causing more infractions and increasing revenues, he said. Shortened signals are leading to a jump in accident rates, he said.
“That creates a huge public safety hazard,” Hurst said.
House Bill 1098 would require municipalities to be in compliance with the Department of Transportation’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Among other things, the manual states that “the duration of the yellow change interval shall be determined using engineering practices.”
House Bill 1099 would require the duration of the yellow signal to be based on the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic and a formula published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Enforcement cameras would provide a grace period of at least one second between the time the traffic light turns red and the time the first photo enforcement infraction is recorded.
Potential for abuse
The bills would decrease the incentives for abuse by addressing the profits cities maintain from photo enforcement infractions, Hurst said. Currently, jurisdictions using red light and speed zone cameras keep 100 percent of profits generated from infractions. Hurst’s bills would require enforcement tickets to be treated similarly to other traffic tickets, meaning the municipality in which the ticket was issued will keep roughly 18 percent of the profits generated from the infraction.
Hurst, referring to the cameras as “cash cows,” said if cities are making less from the cameras, there is less incentive to install new devices or decrease yellow signal timing in an attempt to make money.
“Public safety should not make a profit because if it does, it will always be abused,” Hurst said.
Like Hurst, many Federal Way residents view the enforcement cameras as moneymakers. The cameras have been controversial from the time they were introduced in 2008. In 2010, Federal Way budgeted for $830,000 in red light photo enforcement revenues. By November, the program brought in nearly $1.48 million ($649,106 above budget), according to a financial report.
The money generated from the program goes to the Traffic Safety Fund, which pays for traffic safety, compliance, education, prevention and enforcement. Some funding is funneled toward police operations, the municipal court and traffic division operations.
Check it out
Enforcement cameras photograph the license plate of the vehicle in violation. Offenses are reviewed by Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions and again by Federal Way police before a ticket is sent by ATS to the registered owner of the vehicle.