Editorial: Move ahead with red-light cameras
A motorist hitting the gas pedal as a traffic light turns red is an alarmingly common sight in Honolulu and other areas in the islands.
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A motorist hitting the gas pedal as a traffic light turns red is an alarmingly common sight in Honolulu and other areas in the islands. Over a four-year period ending in 2018, red-light running and other traffic-signal violations resulted in upwards of 1,300 intersection crashes in Hawaii, including several fatalities.
In response to similar public safety threats elsewhere, nearly two dozen states have red-light cameras in operation. Hawaii lawmakers should take steps to join that group by authorizing counties to establish three-year programs to test a photo enforcement system.
House Bill 1676 establishes some pieces of a sensible framework, such as limiting the spending of money from a collected fine to the county in which the ticket was issued. However, for the sake of establishing effective programs, the measure, which won preliminary approval last week from the House Transportation Committee, is in need of some reshaping.
A photo imaging detector system, installed at trouble-spot intersections, can serve as an around-the clock deterrent to violations. When a vehicle enters the intersection against a red light, sensors buried under a crosswalk signal a camera to snap a telephoto color picture of the rear of the vehicle, capturing an image of the license plate. Typically, a second wide-angle photograph records the entire intersection, including other traffic.
Under HB 1676, a clear photo of the vehicle’s driver is required to determine who is responsible for running the red light — an approach taken by three states. In most cases, though, that sets the bar too high. Lawmakers should instead follow the lead of 20 states that hold the vehicle’s registered owner liable.
That was also a recommendation issued by a Legislature-established advisory committee, which included front-lines representation from the state Transportation Department and county police departments among other government agencies and nonprofits, including the Hawaii Bicycling League, MADD and AAA (American Automobile Association) Hawaii.
In addition, according to testimony submitted by AAA Hawaii, the committee recommended that all vendors involved in the enforcement test run should be paid a flat fee regardless of the count of tickets issued.
That’s a much-needed provision to avoid perception that the program aims to maximize “fee-per-citation” revenue for the private-sector vendor rather than improve traffic safety. In 2002, when such a perception dogged a traffic enforcement system known as “van cams,” which used photos to issue speeding tickets, the Legislature repealed the unpopular law.
Starting with signage at intersections fitted with cameras, red-light enforcement appears to be more straight-forward than ticketing for speeding, in which camera presence was not obvious. Also, rather than having to pinpoint speed, the citation is tied only to entering an intersection on a red light.
While in some states, it’s illegal to enter an intersection on a yellow light, in Hawaii, a steady yellow is just a warning. A motorist may enter an intersection while the light is still yellow — just not after it turns red.
Further, while counties should be allowed to tailor some of their own provisions, HB 1676 should fold in a third advisory committee recommendation: requiring that each program start with a public education period, about one month, in which warnings — rather than citations — are issued.
In other states, the installation of red-light-running cameras at problematic intersections has often yielded a decrease in crash tallies, according to research by the Federal Highway Administration. While statistics also show an increase in rear-end collisions — cars stopping short of entering the intersection, far fewer deaths and injuries result. The net safety improvement is worth pursuing.