Don’t call it a comeback

Dayton green-lights the traffic camera revival

By Sarah Sidlow

Everyone loves a good comeback story: Michael Jordan’s heralded return to the NBA, Aerosmith’s late ’80s Permanent Vacation re-debut, City of Dayton’s traffic camera reboot…

Well, maybe not that last one.

In July, the City of Dayton announced it would re-introduce its traffic camera program after a two-year break—promising safer streets once the cameras return to operative status.

A quick refresher: The city had used cameras to enforce traffic laws since 2003, until they were effectively shut down in 2015 because of new, more stringent statewide restrictions on their use. As part of the reboot, Dayton has once again signed a contract with Optotraffic LLC to provide fixed red light and speed cameras as well as portable devices aimed at changing driver behavior in hot spots for speeding. The city is paying about $133,400 for the equipment and projects to receive about $533,000 in annual revenue from its photo-enforced camera program. The cameras will run 24 hours a day, but police officers are not required to be present while they are operating—a departure from the restrictions that shut them down in 2015.

In 2013, police issued 47,940 speeding and 6,730 red-light citations for violations documented by automated cameras. But from 2014 to 2016, the city reported a whopping 80 percent increase in property and injury crashes—proof, supporters claim, that the city is safer under the never-ending watch of traffic cameras.

Many argue that just by knowing the traffic cameras are always watching, drivers are more likely to stop at a red light or curb their speeding. And really, who doesn’t want safer streets?

But critics argue that these traffic cameras were never really about public safety. Those speeding and red-light citations are big bucks for the city—and if some accidents are avoided in the process, they argue, it’s just, well, a happy accident. That point is further accentuated by the idea that it isn’t necessary for police officers to be present at these locations. For example, if someone is driving recklessly down a road monitored by an automatic camera, there’s nothing that will physically slow the driver down in that moment. Sure, they get fined after the fact, but theoretically the road isn’t any safer, it’s just more expensive.

Moreover, because the camera locations are widely known, it won’t be too hard for people to avoid them.

The cameras are expected to become operational very soon. During the first month they are operational, motorists will receive warning notices in the mail instead of actual fines, as required by law.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.


Question of The Week: Are Dayton traffic cameras effective at increasing road safety?


Smile! You’re on candid camera

Red light cameras are making a comeback

By Tim Smith

It seems like everything old is new again, and it’s time to revive the debate about red light cameras in Dayton. They were on prominent display in the Gem City from 2003 to 2015, and then shut down when their usage came under fire. Now they’re coming back, causing some people to cry foul.

A red light camera is a traffic enforcement tool that captures an image of a vehicle, which has entered an intersection in spite of the traffic signal being red. By automatically photographing vehicles that run red lights, the photo is evidence that assists authorities in enforcing traffic laws. The camera is triggered when a vehicle enters the intersection (passes the stop-bar) after the traffic signal has changed. A citation is then usually mailed to the vehicle’s owner. These cameras are used worldwide, in countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and the United States.

Personally, I don’t see the problem with these cameras if they help make our streets safer. It’s been proven that cities with traffic cameras showed a significant decrease in accidents and fatalities by reminding drivers to pay attention when they’re behind the wheel. An exception to this would be those fools who insist in carrying on cell phone conversations while driving in high traffic areas during rush hour. I guess ordering a pizza for pick-up takes precedence over public safety. I don’t remember them teaching that in Driver’s Ed.

There is still an ongoing argument about the purpose of red light cameras. Authorities cite public safety as the primary reason, while opponents contend that their use is more for financial gain. There have been concerns that red light cameras scare drivers who want to avoid a ticket into making more sudden stops, which may increase the risk of rear-end or broad-side collisions. Those arguing against red light cams seem to be overlooking the statistical evidence. In the city of Dayton alone, during the two years we didn’t have red light cams, there was an 80% increase in collisions that resulted in injuries and property damage.

Some critics argue that it’s really about the bucks communities generate to fill their coffers. If you want to take that a step further, what about the speeding ticket you get from the Highway Patrol when you’re racing down I-75 to catch the kickoff at the Bengals game? Do you think your fine is being used to pay the mortgage on the Governor’s mansion? Even better examples are those warnings they post in construction zones, telling you that speeding fines are doubled. Take it from one who has been there — they ain’t kidding! Did that hefty fine I had to pay help to balance the state’s budget? No, it promoted highway safety by reminding me to follow the posted speed limit.

If I’m approaching an intersection and I see a traffic cam staring down at me when the light turns yellow, I’m less likely to put the pedal to the metal and sail through. I’ve nearly been nailed by drivers who didn’t share this bit of common sense. I’m also more aware of my driving habits when I see a notice that the area is under electronic monitoring, especially in Oakwood, the speed trap capitol of southwest Ohio.

Let’s be realistic. In the past 15 years, we’ve all had to sacrifice public anonymity for safety and security. You can’t walk into a bank, retail establishment, or public building without being on candid camera. Quite often, this type of surveillance is used to solve crimes. Police have used traffic light cams to identify possible suspects and witnesses, or capture an image of someone fleeing the scene of an accident. This technology has also been used to identify and recover stolen vehicles, and to get impaired drivers off of the road. Many communities utilize traffic cams in school zones, where young lives are potentially at risk.

Like it or not, red light cameras are here to stay, so get used to it. To quote an old public service TV ad, the life you save may be your own. What’s so bad about that?

Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com. 


Show me the money!

Traffic cameras bring money into City Hall

By Missy Mae Walters

There’s a new slogan in Dayton. It’s called, “Show Me the Money!” And money will definitely start flowing into City Hall as 10 traffic cameras begin seeing action at various intersections across the city.

Despite voters passing an increase in the city’s income tax last November, the city of Dayton is once again on the prowl to generate further revenue to fill ominous budget gaps. The answer to their woes is what I like to refer to as a “love note” with an enclosed average price tag of around $100 if one of the 10 cameras catches you speeding or running a red light. So how much revenue is the city looking at? Back in early July when the city of Dayton thought a ticket would require a police officer present at the time of the traffic infraction was $533,000.

Now thanks to the Ohio Supreme Court 5-2 decision in July, the red-light and speed-detection cameras do not require an officer to be present. This could equate to hundreds of thousands more in revenue. Members of the Ohio Legislature have responded to the decision by stating they would consider adding a constitutional amendment to the ballot so voters could have a final say on this issue.

We all should be leery because this is not truly a matter of safety but of revenue generation. Additionally, as is with many government-sponsored programs, there is always room for abuse.

Safety yes is important, but not when it is used as an excuse to generate profit and actually defeats its own purpose, raising crashes instead of reducing them. When looking at transportation research, I have to argue that it is simply a front to raise revenues.

Red light cameras work by taking a photo during the red phase of the traffic signal. The camera then automatically takes a photo and after review sends a violation to the owner of the vehicle.

Research from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the largest transportation research agency in the United States, show that red-light cameras are not always the answer to preventing accidents and are counterproductive when you look at overall traffic accidents. After evaluating 254 intersections in 32 Texas cities, their 2011 study found that while the cameras reduced the number of serious crashes by one-third, it increased rear-end collisions.

More recently in 2014 the Texas A&M Transportation Institute was at it again, this time researching Chicago which has the nation’s largest red-light camera program. The Tribune study, as it was dubbed, found that while traffic cameras appeared to reduce injuries by 15 percent for collisions at right angles but were overshadowed by a 22 percent increase in injuries from rear-end accidents. When it was all said and done, the reduction in traffic accidents was insignificant with an increase of injuries by 5 percent. In addition, it is important to note to follow the money and look at the revenue numbers. The city of Chicago gained over $500 million revenue since 2002 through the use of red-light and traffic cameras.

Something further to consider is the lack of oversight of the cameras.

Earlier I sighted government abuse. It’s no surprise but under Chicago’s Emanuel administration, the threshold for what constituted a red-light camera ticket was lowered, allowing for tickets to be issued even when the light was yellow. The result over the two year period when the threshold was lowered were tickets to 77,000 more drivers, increasing ticket revenue by over $7.7 million dollars.

I would suggest there are several countermeasures the City of Dayton could focus on rather than using red-light and speed-reduction cameras. I cannot tell you how many times I have approached a light in Dayton and it takes no time to turn from yellow to red. Consideration should be given to extending the timing of the yellow lights and even further time where all lights set at red to allow for time for all drivers to be held.

So be careful on the roads of Dayton and mindful of those cameras.

You know, I thought the city of Dayton prided itself on being a welcoming community but I am not sure what is so welcoming about getting a traffic ticket in the mail.

Missy Mae Walters serves as the senior associate of campaigns and public affairs at JSN & Associates. Walters served as the regional political director for the Trump for President Campaign in Ohio and is a former executive director of the Montgomery County Republican Party. Reach her at MissyMaeWalters@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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