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Red Light Cameras in Ohio

Controversy is surrounding the new practice of putting cameras at intersections to catch drivers running red lights. While court cases in Ohio have allowed municipalities “home rule” on using red-light and speed cameras, a string of bans has now swept across Ohio resulting in many counties banning the practice. Hamilton and Butler County have banned the use of red-light and speed cameras through the courts, and appellate courts have also deemed the use of these cameras unconstitutional in Toledo and Cleveland on the grounds that traffic tickets are controlled exclusively by municipal courts. Toledo is still scheduled to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, but the chances of a reversal are low.  Columbus began the practice in 2006 and is now up to 38 cameras city-wide, but no case has yet to be heard in Franklin County.

The state is also taking measures to curtail the use of cameras in Ohio.  The Ohio House passed House Bill 69 back in 2013, with a vote of 61-32, to remove many of the cameras across Ohio. Other than schools zones during specific times, which would require an officer on location to be permissible, almost all cameras would be banned. The Bill, now set to be vote on in the Senate could add Ohio to the list of states banning red light cameras, including Maine, Montana, Nevada and South Carolina as well as a few others. On the other hand, states like Connecticut and Minnesota have no laws regulating such cameras, and a proposed regulation in Virginia failed to pass in the house.

Proponents of the cameras claim they make drivers safer. Incidents around camera areas generally decline. Drivers are forced to be more aware of following traffic laws with cameras in place. Along with safety, there exists also an economic motive to keep these cameras. The village of Elmwood earned $630,000 in a 30 day period from these tickets, brining in extra revenue for the city at a relatively low cost. In a sense, cameras become an “indirect tax” on the community they are in. Cameras are for more cost effective than traditional policing, and fines are given automatically to all offenders.

Opponents of these cameras also have a range of reasoning. First and foremost, most of the ticket revenue goes to companies, mostly located outside of Ohio. Many times private companies set up these cameras by local government contract, and in return share in the profits of tickets. This gives extra incentive to make cameras hard to see to catch drivers off guard. However, if people are more concerned with seeing if there is a camera than driving, accidents seem rather likely to result.  Additionally, cameras might not provide that much added safety. While cameras can see incidents, and provide disincentive to break the law, dangerous drivers will still act dangerously and still result in crashes. On the other hand, cameras are very good at enforcing the letter of the law, but do not enforce the spirit of the law.  Drivers may be forced to follow laws more strictly, but with no safety being added. Finally, courts argue that allowing these cameras is taking power from the courts, and creating difficulties for due process.

The two major groups spearheading the initiative to ban cameras create an interesting coalition. Both the ACLU, a typically seen as liberal group, and the Tea Party, usually associated with conservatives, have kick started campaigns in different states. Other groups say an outright ban is over zealous, and that regulations can ameliorate the issues behind them. Citizens of towns with these cameras are split. Many see the decrease of accidents and increased safety as a direct result, while others argue people are becoming afraid to drive at all. Columbus’s 38 red light cameras are still in use, which the Police are staunchly defending.

For more information see:

http://watchdog.org/125364/ohio-red-light-cameras/

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2013/06/26/House-passes-red-light-camera-ban.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/02/07/red-light-cameras-under-scrutiny-in-state-legislatures/

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/03/03/butler-county-village-cant-use-red-light-cameras.html

Relevant Cases:

Walker v. Toledo (2013)

http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14293990342717466717&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

Mendenhall v. Akron (2008)

http://www.supremecourtofohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2008/2008-ohio-270.pdf

Lycan v. Cleveland (2014)

http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/8/2014/2014-ohio-203.pdf

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