JEFFERSON CITY - On Wednesday, restrictions for automatic traffic control cameras were approved by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. The new policy adds restrictions that transportation officials said will make the cameras fair and more consistent.
"The policy provides better guidance on how the cameras can be used and more oversight to make sure the cameras are used to increase safety and prevent injuries and death," MoDOT director, Kevin Keith, said.
The new policy for red-light runners, which takes effect immediately, adds four mandates for the installation of red-light cameras.
For automated speed enforcement cameras on state roads, the commission restricted their use to school zones, areas where road work is being done and in designated "Travel Safe" zones. A Travel Safe zone applies to a stretch of highway that calls for extra precaution due to a higher number of crashes than surrounding highways.
The restrictions cover only state roads where a city or county wishes to place an automated enforcement system. They do not cover county or city roads. The department reported that there are 88 state highway intersections where red-light enforcement cameras have been installed by local governments.
Although imposing restrictions, Keith and his department endorsed their use. "We believe automated enforcement is a good tool for keeping motorists safe," Keith said.
His department cited studies finding a 45 percent reduction in right angle crashes causing fatalities and serious injuries at intersections using red-light cameras. The department said research also shows fewer people run red lights at both monitored and non-monitored intersections in areas with cameras. However, an increase in collisions causing no injuries or minor injuries has increased by 14 percent.
The tougher restrictions did not win over one of the legislature's harshest critics of automatic camera enforcement — Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County — who charges the systems impair public safety and violate constitutional rights.
In some cases, violations are handled as an infraction, like a parking ticket, for which the accused does not have a constitutional right to trial by jury or a right confront the accuser.
"Do we want to forgo our constitutional rights that are assured to us, for safety?" Lembke asked after hearing of the commission's action. "That is the question the public has to ask, and I am going to continue, not only my constituents in the first, but the people across Missouri, to fight for and protect their constitutional rights."
An an infraction does not carry points on a driving license that, if accumulate to a high enough level, can lead to a loss of driving privileges. Lembke argues that an offense like running through a red light is serious enough that cities should not be allowed to evade the driver having points assessed.
Missouri's Department of Transportation is not responsible for the installation of the cameras, and does not employ companies to install and operate them. This responsibility is left to local jurisdictions which have contracted with a private company to install and manage the enforcement systems.
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.