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Votes

No More Red-Light Cameras

House ensures traffic safety devices not coming back.

Red-light cameras are unlikely to return to Arlington in the coming year after legislation that would have brought them back to the county’s busiest intersections died in the House of Delegates last week.

LAST YEAR the Virginia General Assembly ended a pilot program that had brought the cameras to seven Virginia jurisdictions, including most of Northern Virginia. Starting in 1999, five intersections in Arlington were equipped with the cameras.

House Speaker William J. Howell struck the red-light measure from a House bill on traffic violations last Tuesday, arguing that it was not "germane."

The Senate had previously voted 30-9 to reinstall the cameras, which law enforcement officials say increase driver safety and cut down on accidents.

A House Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee had defeated the legislation earlier in the session, and Howell’s move effectively killed the bill for the year.

Though the House’s action was expected, Arlington officials and legislators expressed disappointment that lawmakers from other localities are limiting how the county enforces its traffic regulations.

"We’ve been a supporter of this all along because it’s effective in reducing serious accidents and saves lives," County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said. "I hope at some point sensibility will prevail and [legislators] will stop preventing us from doing something that was working."

The cameras snapped photographs of cars that entered an intersection after the light turned red and fines were mailed to the owners.

In Arlington the cameras had been installed at the intersection of Wilson Boulevard and N. Lynn Street; Lee Highway and N. Lynn Street; Route 50 and Filmore Street; Route 50 and Manchester Street; and Jefferson Davis Highway and 27th Street.

VIOLATORS were fined $50 for the infraction, but points were not assessed to a driver’s record, as would be the case if an officer cited an individual for going through a red light.

A private company installed and monitored the cameras, and then forwarded the photographs to the Arlington Police Department to verify and mail out the fines.

In 2004, the cameras took an excess of 41,000 photos at the five intersections, and after analyzing the results the police department mailed out 23,641 tickets, Rodriguez said.

Critics of the cameras claimed they were an invasion of personal privacy and caused a greater number of rear-end crashes.

Arlington police officers view the cameras as one of their greatest tools to induce motorists to drive more carefully.

"Everyone one of these areas had a warning that drivers were about to enter a red-light camera zone," Det. Rick Rodriguez said. "If drivers try to beat [the light] by accelerating, they create a dangerous situation for themselves and other motorists."

Red-light running is the most frequent cause of accidents in urban areas and resulted in more than 5,000 crashes in the state in 2003, said Chris Galm, spokesman for the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running.

Though no statistics are available for Arlington, Fairfax County had a 41 percent reduction in red-light violations after the first year that the cameras were in use, according to the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.

ARLINGTON POLICE officials are concerned that reckless driving and accidents may increase in the five intersections now that motorists know the cameras have been removed.

Galm admitted that there is an initial spike in the number of rear-end crashes once the cameras are placed in intersections. But those numbers drop once motorists begin modifying their behavior, he said.

Rear-end crashes also cause far less damage than the front-on collisions that tend to occur when people run red lights, Galm added.

Arlington officials also scoff at the notion that the cameras were an invasion of personal privacy. Patricia Carroll, the county’s liaison in Richmond, points out that individuals are photographed on a daily basis at toll booths, ATMs and drug stores.

Proponents of the measure plan to introduce it again next year, and are optimistic that it will have a better chance of passing.

"There’s a real desire to see this technology restored from so many different parts of Virginia that at some point we will be able to surmount the road blocks that have gotten in the way," Galm said.