The days of red light and speed cameras at Ohio intersections could be numbered.
A Hamilton County Court judge ruled Thursday that a traffic camera ordinance in a small village near Cincinnati is invalid and unenforceable. Lawmakers are also proposing a state law banning all traffic cameras in Ohio.
Only 2,188 people live in Elmwood Place, according to the 2010 census, but cameras have caught more than 20,000 drivers speeding through town since cameras were installed in September 2012. Civil citations issued for the violations have generated about $1.5 million, according to Police Chief William Peskin. Peskin said the village has kept about $900,000, with the rest going to Maryland-based Optotraffic.
In his decision, Judge Robert Ruehlman noted the lack of signage to warn motorists and that cameras are calibrated only once per year by the for-profit camera operator.
“Elmwood Place is engaged in nothing more than a high-tech game of 3-card Monty,” Ruehlman wrote. “It is a scam that motorists can’t win.”
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There’s no state law on the books allowing or prohibiting cameras that detect speeding and red-light violations.
Bipartisan legislation has been introduced to prohibit the traffic cameras in Ohio. Bill sponsor Rep. Ron Maag, R-Lebanon, said sending millions out of Ohio has been a poor business decision and that money would be better spent on law enforcement and public safety.
“For $800,000, you could have two or three officers sitting there, who could protect people from all other mayhem,” Maag said.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 2008 in favor of allowing the cameras, arguing the cameras operated as an extension of local law enforcement. But the court did not address the method of ticketing vehicle owners instead of drivers. Citations are not reported against a motorist’s driving privileges or insurance.
“To me it’s un-American — you are guilty until proven innocent vs. innocent until proven guilty,” Maag said.
Dayton collected about $2.4 million from camera citations in 2012. Dayton keeps about $55 of the $85 civil citation and sends the rest to Phoenix-based RedFlex Traffic Systems. RedFlex also operates cameras in Hamilton, Middletown, Springfield, Trotwood and West Carrollton.
Springfield issued 6,638 citations in 2012 and generated $287,784 from paid tickets. Hamilton uses speed cameras mounted on an SUV and 20,782 citations were issued between March 31, 2010 and Jan. 31, 2013, generating $958,636. In the small Butler County community of New Miami, police have given more than 9,700 violations since installing two mobile speed cameras in the village Oct. 1 and collected more than $210,000.
Middletown’s 14 red-light cameras — located at eight “high accident” intersections in the city — generated $186,580 for the city’s general fund in 2012.
A 2011 study conducted by Dayton city officials showed the number of traffic accidents dropped by a combined 23 percent compared to the year before each intersection received its camera.
“It’s not pleasant but that’s how behaviors change,” Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said. “People have said since they got them, they’ve slowed down and that’s the point.”
Biehl said the number of officers has declined nearly 20 percent since 2007 and cameras are one way to increase effectiveness of a smaller force.
“To not utilize this technology, particularly in this era of significant decline of sworn police officers, means we’re going to need to respond to more auto accidents that take our time away from more critical public safety duties.”
Maag said cameras contribute to more accidents than they prevent because drivers slam on the brakes to avoid citations, citing research collected by the National Motorists Association. The Wisconsin-based nonprofit, which also opposes seat belt laws, boasts a study claiming insurance companies support cameras because they cause crashes and, in turn, enable them to charge higher insurance premiums.
Springfield Police Sgt. Brett Bauer said the number of rear-end accidents might increase, but the cameras reduce the number of injury-producing accidents.
Staff writer Ed Richter contributed to this report.