Red light cameras have been controversial and unpopular among Ohio residents since they first appeared in the state. The coming year could see changes in how they’re used, or whether they can be used at all.
The cameras are positioned at intersections and snap photos of cars that enter the intersections after the traffic light turns red. Some also have speed measuring devices. When a vehicle is photographed running a red light, a ticket is automatically generated and sent to the owner on record.
Local governments say the cameras help promote safety and cut down on crashes. But informal media polls suggest many Ohioans view the devices as simply a way for governments to generate money by giving people tickets.
Opponents also argue that the systems set up to handle the tickets are unconstitutional and violate citizens’ right to due process.
The future of these devices is in flux as the General Assembly considers new laws restricting their use. Local governments using the cameras also could be affected by multiple cases pending in the courts challenging their use — including one in the Ohio Supreme Court.
In the legislature, House Bill 69 would ban cities, townships, counties and the State Highway Patrol from using photo-monitoring cameras to monitor for traffic light or speeding violations. The one exception is to enforce speed limits in a school zone during the hours the special school zone speed limit is in effect, but a police officer would have to be present also.
The bill passed in the state House of Representatives in June with a 64-32 vote. It’s been pending in the Senate ever since, but Sen. Kevin Bacon said he wants to float an alternative proposal. Ohio media outlets reported that the Republican from Columbus said at a press conference in November that he’s working on legislation that would allow local governments to continue to use the cameras for safety reasons and not merely as a revenue generator.
If the General Assembly doesn’t change the law, a case the Ohio Supreme Court just agreed to hear may have an impact. The lawsuit was filed against the city of Toledo by Bradley Walker, a man who was issued a $120 ticket by the private Australian company that maintains Toledo’s red light cameras.
Walker argued the lack of an appeals procedure was a violation of his due process rights because he wasn’t given a meaningful opportunity to be heard. His suit was a class action that asked to have all of the penalties refunded to people who paid photo-generated tickets in Toledo.
His case originally was dismissed by the Lucas County Common Pleas Court, but upheld by the Court of Appeals. The appellate court agreed with Walker’s due process argument, and that now will be considered by the Ohio Supreme Court.