More drivers running red lights in Springfield since cameras shut off

More people are running red lights in Springfield at intersections with red light cameras three months after they were turned off due to a new state law that restricted their use.

The Springfield Police Division saw a 47 percent increase in the red light violation detection rate at the 17 cameras at 10 intersections, according to Sgt. Brett Bauer.

The number of red light detections also rose to more than 5,300 last month, up about 41 percent from May 2014.

The cameras have been turned off. But Redflex, the Springfield’s red light camera vendor, still collects data using the equipment buried in the roadways at those intersection. No citations are issued from that information.

“It’s data collection and that’s it at this point,” Bauer said. “None of the detections are sent to me to review.”

A new law this spring required officers to be present at intersections with red light or speed cameras, which cities have said effectively bans them because it makes them too expensive to use. Springfield has estimated it would have to hire at least 42 officers to run its 17 cameras.

Springfield has collected about $3.4 million in fines from red light cameras since they were installed in 2006. It stands to lose about $250,000 this year if the cameras are shelved for good. Springfield has issued about 77,000 citations since the program started.

City leaders insist the program isn’t about money. In 2007, 90 crashes occurred at the intersections with red light cameras. Last year, that number fell to 44 crashes, a 51 percent reduction.

Recently an accident with injuries occurred at the intersection of North Limestone Street and Home Road, an intersection with a camera.

Data provided to the Traffic Safety Coalition from police departments showed that red light running rose more than 77 percent in Trotwood — the biggest local jump — following the new state law.

Other cities that turned off red light and speeding cameras in recent months also have seen an increase in traffic violations, including West Carrollton (40 percent increase) and Middletown (34 percent increase).

Dayton, Akron and Toledo have kept their cameras functioning. State legislators responded by threatening to dock the cities by subtracting state contributions to their budgets equal to the amount that the cities bring in with ticket revenue.

Judges in Montgomery, Lucas and Summit counties have made rulings supporting the cities by blocking the law, issuing preliminary injunctions. Springfield and Columbus have also challenged the law in court, but have discontinued issuing tickets to avoid confusion.

Clark County Common Pleas Court Judge Douglas Rastatter will likely decide the Springfield case from written motions filed by the city and state, Springfield Law Director Jerry Strozdas said, but there’s no timeline for a decision.

The Traffic Safety Coalition estimates that 250 to 300 communities use speed and red light ticket cameras around the nation. The coalition is managed by Resolute Consulting, a Chicago-based consulting firm. The coalition receives funding from RedFlex Traffic Systems, which supplies the cameras.

The coalition says on its website that its local community partners around the nation include hospitals, police agencies, bicycle and pedestrian advocacy groups.

Sue Oberhauser serves as co-chairwoman of the coalition and lives in Somerset, Ohio. She said the jump in violations indicates the cameras serve an important purpose. She and her husband have lobbied on behalf of the ticket cameras since 2005.

Her daughter Sarah, 32, died in 2002 at an intersection just outside of Oxford when a driver ran a red light and hit her vehicle.

“Our daughter was killed by a driver who just didn’t want to stop. We feel a deep and real commitment,” Oberhauser said. “Anything that makes traffic lights safer — it doesn’t make sense to get rid of them.”

State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, sponsored the new state law, saying some tickets wouldn’t be written if an officer were present because cities were “issuing what I call ‘ticky-tacky tickets’ in an effort to bolster revenues for the devices.”

He said last week that he offered a compromise before the bill was passed, asking that legal turns on red lights not be ticketed and that tickets be restricted to residents of the cities where the cameras operate.

“It was the cities’ own intransigence that put them in this pickle,” Seitz said. “They had opportunities to save the program. Their own pigheadedness prevented that from happening. The courts will ultimately determine whether it’s state law or not.”

Municipalities should provide better due process for red light camera violations, said Springfield resident Steve Adams. However, he believes the cameras reduce crashes.

“There are all kinds of different reasons why people can be in the intersection, but it’s not their fault,” Adams said. “I’m kind of for them and I’m kind of against them.”

The U.S. Justice Department announced Friday that a former Redflex chief executive officer pleaded guilty to participating in an eight-year bribery and fraud scheme. Officials in Columbus and Cincinnati were said to be involved. Federal court documents included no mention of any links to the Springfield area.

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