State lawmakers are cautiously moving ahead with a plan to deploy high-tech cameras for traffic enforcement by photographing the license plates of motorists who run red lights.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee today tentatively approved Senate Bill 221 to authorize the red-light enforcement program, but Chairwoman Jill Tokuda said she was amending the bill to delay launch until Jan. 1, 2019.
Tokuda said the amended bill would also establish a “red light imaging detector program committee” made up of representatives from the police, prosecutors, state Department of Transportation, city Department of Transportation Services and “vendor personnel.”
That group would be tasked with creating an implementation plan for the red-light program and recommending any amendments to the new law or extra funding that might be needed, Tokuda said. Those amendments would be considered by lawmakers in the next session of the Legislature in 2018.
SB 221 would authorize Honolulu and the three neighbor island counties to set up mounted cameras to snap pictures of vehicles as they run red lights. The counties would then be responsible for issuing citations by mail to the registered owners of the vehicles, according to the bill.
Approval of the bill by the Ways and Means Committee Friday is a hint the measure is likely to pass the Senate. House Speaker Joe Souki is a longtime supporter of the use of cameras for traffic enforcement, and other House lawmakers have said they are also ready to consider photo enforcement.
Supporters of the bill say they are concerned about reckless drivers who ignore traffic signals and speed through intersections. The use of cameras for traffic enforcement is common in other states, but it is unclear whether Hawaii residents will accept the practice.
Lawmakers passed a law in 1998 authorizing a photo enforcement system to ticket speeding motorists, but that prompted a furious community outcry when a private contractor deployed a traffic enforcement system known as “van cams” on Oahu in 2002. In the face of that opposition, lawmakers repealed that law and haven’t approved a new photo enforcement law since.
State Sen. Gil Riviere voted against the measure today, saying “I just don’t think we should even go there.”
“You know, the van cam thing was a fiasco a few years ago, and…I’ve seen red-light cameras in other states, and I’m going to have to go against this one,” he said.
State Sens. Brickwood Galuteria, Breene Harimoto, Lorraine Inouye, Kai Kahele, Maile Shimabukuro and Glenn Wakai voted for the measure. Senate Democratic Majority Leader J. Kalani English also voted for the bill despite what he described as “extreme reservations.” Sens. Donovan Dela Cruz and Brian Taniguchi were absent for the vote.
Tokuda said the issue “obviously is not an easy one in any of our communities, but obviously it is one that has presented itself as an option for trying to reduce speeding and running of red lights in many communities from a safety perspective.”