DENVER, CO – If you feel like you’re living in George Orwell’s novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” under the surveillance of “Big Brother” traffic radar and red light intersection cameras – you’re not alone.
Senator Scott Renfroe (R-Greeley) listened to his constituents and sponsored Senate Bill 50 to eliminate “Big Brother” cameras that photograph cars speeding and driving through yellow caution lights that within seconds turn red.
“I take very seriously when we’re looking at accidents, injuries and fatalities that happen on our roads and I wouldn’t bring this (bill forward) unless I saw a lot of that that made me question what we’re doing,” Renfroe told the Senate Transportation committee on Tuesday.
“I’ve never gotten a red light ticket. I’ve never gotten a photo radar ticket,” said Renfroe.
However, the legislator had suffered injuries in being hit twice by drivers who ran through red lights. “I know what happens first hand.”
Renfroe presented national statistics from 2011, which stated an estimated 553 communities use red light cameras and 103 jurisdictions use photo radar to nab speeders. Federal Highway Administration statistics indicated that about 2 percent of all fatal accidents are caused by drivers running a red light.
The question, Renfroe said, is whether traffic cameras actually prevent accidents – or just record what occurred at an intersection or on a roadway. He said studies indicate that there are better options by using delayed yellow caution lights, adding turning lanes and other engineering options.
Supporting that premise, Renfroe read excerpts from the December audit of Denver’s traffic system and the use of traffic cameras that was prepared by City Auditor Dennis Gallagher.
“Unfortunately, Denver (Police Department) has not demonstrated that the photo radar program has had a positive impact on safety.”
“These programs were sold as public safety enhancements but are widely viewed as a cash grab,” stated Gallagher, who noted that revenues from camera-snapped drivers speeding and running red lights had generated greater revenue than anticipated.
Yet, he concluded, “It undermines public trust to maintain photo enforcement programs that are profitable but whose safety impact has not been conclusively shown.”
“If that situation persists, the program should be shut down,” declared Renfroe. “That’s quite a statement by an auditor to tell his (city) council, and I commend him for being honest.”
Renfroe presented studies by the Urban Transit Institute of North Carolina and Kansas City, Missouri that showed accidents did not decline with the use of red light cameras.
The Kansas City study showed that accidents at intersections increased from 435 before a camera existed to 513 two years after its installation. Of those, rear end accidents increased from 235 to 308.
“Having been involved in statistics in my life, I would appreciate a controlled study for the accident patterns,” said Sen. Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village) questioning the validity of studies presented by Renfroe.
He said the North Carolinastudy surveyed all of the intersections – with and without cameras – but found a greater decline in accidents at those without cameras.
Schwartz complained that the bill went beyond red light cameras in intersections to eliminate speed detection in construction and school zones.
“You can’t measure the amount of children you’d save by slowing traffic down even if it means getting a speeding ticket,” said Schwartz.
Renfroe said that was not the intent of his bill.
Testifying against the bill were Dave Hayes, deputy chief of Boulder Police Department; Charles Baker, patrol division commander of Commerce City Police Department; Jody Sansing, interim police chief for Cherry Hills Police Department; and Mark Radtke, lobbyist for Colorado Municipal League.
Most testified that other solutions – as longer yellow caution lights – could not be utilized because of traffic light timing to move vehicles through intersections.
Although nine cities use intersection red light cameras in the Front Range, Colorado Springs disbanded the program last year. There, citizens had complained loudly about their privacy and rights being violated.
Renfroe said that about 15 states have banned the use of traffic cameras, and another 40 are considering bills to eliminate them.
Sen. Nancy Spence (R- Centennial) said she’d heard arguments for against the bill, but none addressed her bottom line – civil rights.
“The question is about my personal right not be photographed without my permission, the right to privacy, the right to face my accuser – not be served something in the mail,” declared Spence.
She proposed amending the bill to exclude photo radar cameras – a move that might assuage Schwartz’s concerns about speeding in school and construction zones. But Spence’s amendment didn’t move Schwartz or other senators and failed 6 – 1.
The bill skidded off the road when the committee voted 5 – 2 against it. Renfroe and Spence supported it.