Efforts to capture red-light runners on video have yet to get the green light in Kansas, but officials in Lawrence are wondering whether that day may soon arrive.
The city has supported past efforts to secure legal permission to hook up such systems in town, and now — with safety issues enduring, technology advancing and revenue needs mounting — talk of enabling legislation just may get another look this coming session in Topeka.
“That wouldn’t surprise me at all, especially when the economy is performing the way it is,” said state Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence and member of the House Transportation Committee. “I think cities will look at options they’ve never seriously considered before to generate new revenues.”
Such systems, which are becoming increasingly popular nationwide, typically allow a private company to install cameras at selected intersections, then use the systems to capture images and videos that lead to tickets for drivers running red lights.
Such files then are forwarded to the local police department for review, before a “notice to appear” in court is mailed to the vehicle’s owner.
A similar system took effect in January in Kansas City, Mo., and the city’s vendor already has 30 cameras operating at 18 intersections. The system has led to more than 8,400 citations, each calling upon the vehicle owner to pay a $100 fine or fight it in court.
The city isn’t sure how much money the system will generate for the city — the vendor, American Traffic Solutions, keeps a cut according to a formula included in a five-year contract — but officials figure that each camera needs to average about 1.5 citations per day to “break even,” said Dennis Gagnon, a spokesman for the Kansas City Public Works Department.
The city’s first intersection to get cameras initially had 150 citations in a week, he said. Now that’s down to an average of 7.5.
The system appears to be accomplishing its first goal, Gagnon said, which is to modify drivers’ behavior and convince them to reduce the number of times they run red lights. That equates to safer driving and fewer accidents.
Whether the program ends up making the city money while doing so remains to be seen.
“We have a program that has zero cost, but has potential revenue,” Gagnon said, noting that the vendor takes the chance of not making money if certain cameras don’t catch enough violators. “We just don’t know what that potential revenue might be.”
Any Kansas community seeking to give red-light cameras a try still has some work to do.
Running a red light is a moving violation, the kind that can assess points on a driver’s license. And while video systems can establish the basics of such a violation — when it occurs, which car is involved and, with additional assistance, who owns the vehicle — they cannot definitively prove who actually is driving the vehicle at the time.
Allowing the red-light moving violation to be considered much like a parking ticket — a citation that goes with the vehicle itself, not necessarily the driver — would require a shift in state statute.
“It’s been talked about, but there’s nothing we can do unless state law changes,” said David Woosley, the city of Lawrence’s traffic/transportation engineer.
That’s why, in the past, the city of Lawrence has joined other Kansas communities in supporting “legislation at the state level that would specifically authorize municipalities to do red-light running camera citation systems,” said David Corliss, Lawrence city manager.
Improving traffic safety is a motivating factor behind the effort, and while revenue “can be an important aspect” for consideration, he said, officials need to understand that costs also would have to be weighed.
“I see value in that in the future, but it’s not something that we’ve actively supported,” Corliss said. “As the technology improves, and the need to have officers doing other things other than enforcing that (red-light running) ordinance gets more significant, you’ll see that issue coming up in the future.”
Ballard, for one, is waiting to be convinced of its need.
“I’m not sure people are really willing to just vote on it just to generate funds,” Ballard said. “Now, they might be willing to if information can prove that where they are using these cameras has saved lives or made things less dangerous. Then people may be willing to look at it, if it’s a safety issue vs. just money.
“But I think there needs to be a real need for it.”