Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 10, 2013

Another View: Schmidt's stoplight camera bill out of focus

Another view
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — This is a fairness issue. It’s as simple as that. Two bills in the Michigan House would amend state law to allow municipalities to place cameras at certain intersections to catch people who commit traffic infractions, such as running a red light.

Photos would be taken of the license plates of the vehicles and tickets sent by mail to the owners.

The plan is flawed.

Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, chief sponsor of one of the bills, says their purpose is to improve safety at dangerous intersections, but the legislation could easily be used to squeeze more money out of taxpayers. Municipalities are starved for cash and could be tempted to fleece citizens. The cameras would be nothing more than a tax instituted without allowing voters a voice in the matter.

Revenue from the fines would be split 50-50 between the local municipality and the state.

Communities would be allowed to pass an ordinance installing the cameras at specific intersections. They would be required to consult with law enforcement officers and traffic engineers before approving the ordinance. A law enforcement officer would be required to review the photos and decide if citations should be issued.

But the system is ripe for abuse. There is no oversight to ensure that communities fully document the need for cameras.

Cautious drivers could be turned into paranoid ones every time they approach a monitored intersection. Speeding motorists may attract the attention of a patrol officer. That’s different from penalizing a driver who misjudges a traffic signal by a fraction of a second and is otherwise driving legally.

Fines are stiff and the penalty for not paying them is harsh.

Tickets are $130 but a driver also could be required to pick up the expenses for operating the cameras, pay an assessment for the installation costs and then be charged an administrative fee.

People will have only 30 days to pay the fine or face losing their vehicle registration or the ability to sell their vehicles or renew their driver’s licenses.

Citations could hike auto insurance premiums for those ticketed, something most people can’t afford. The bill also flies in the face of our criminal justice system, which presumes a person is innocent until proven guilty.

When a vehicle is photographed as violating the law, it is presumed the owner is driving it. An individual must go through an extensive process to prove someone else was behind the wheel.

Legislators are going home for the summer and won’t be back until September but, like a bad penny, so will this proposal. It should be discarded, with little time spent debating it.

—The Detroit News