Red-light cameras here to stay?February 3rd, 2011 by Steven Gardner
This week the Legislature debated bills that would restrict how cities employ red-light cameras. You all know, of course, that Bremerton has them and no place else in the county does.
A week ago an e-mail from initiative guy Tim Eyman made me curious about the roots of an effort in Longview, so I e-mailed him asking to chat. Eyman got red-light cameras overturned in Mukilteo, where he lives, and has begun helping other communities either get them overturned or make it so voters would have to approve their installation. He was also at the legislative committee meeting Wednesday.
Eyman is among many who believe the cameras are not about the safety they are said to be when they are proposed. That’s how cities get them in, he said. Afterward they just collect the cash and pay for things with it. “It’s an entire government program based on a lie,” he said.
In Bremerton it helped fund some new police officers. According to a study done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, they also helped reduce vehicle fatalities in major cities that had them. From the organization’s press release:
“Red light cameras saved 159 lives in 2004-08 in 14 of the biggest US cities, a new analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows. Had cameras been operating during that period in all large cities, a total of 815 deaths would have been prevented.”
The chief question I had for Eyman was whether someone contacted him in Longview, or if he contacted them. He couldn’t remember. It seems to go both ways, so it doesn’t really matter, except that there is no one I know of in Bremerton who is leading any kind of effort to get rid of the ones here.
And if I were to lay bets on what will happen in Olympia, I think the odds are against anything coming down that would restrict cities too much, especially those that already have the cameras in place. The most recent evidence is that the cameras do save lives, and the revenue stream is already flowing in. At a time when governments are scrambling for income I think it would take a pretty compelling case for legislators to take a revenue stream away from local governments.
Eyman told the legislators that it may come to a state initiative if they don’t act, the one thing that might persuade them to enforce some limits not in place now. If it comes to an initiative, it’s a pretty good guess he’d feel confident about its chances. He said (I haven’t double-checked, but it sounds plausible.) that in 15 cases in which voters had an opportunity to vote against cameras, they did every time. In our own online poll asking whether voters should decide to install cameras, two-thirds of you said “Yes.”