Courts & Crime

Are some cities addicted to red-light camera revenue?

Two Washington state legislators say cities are misusing automated traffic cameras to boost revenue and that they should lower the cost of their tickets.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, and Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, say state lawmakers never intended automated red light cameras to slap drivers with fines of $100 or more, which is what they cost in most South Sound cities. Local cities that have red light cameras include Tacoma, Lakewood, Puyallup, Federal Way, Auburn, Fife and Lacey.

Hurst believes cities are installing more and more traffic cameras not to increase public safety but to make money. He's concerned they may even try to shorten the length of yellow lights to catch more red light runners and increase profits.

"It's like crack cocaine for cities," Hurst said. "They get this revenue, and all of a sudden it's 'How can we get more?'"

Local cities that use camera enforcement disagree. Some say lowering fines wouldn't deter reckless driving. Others contend they wouldn’t be able to cover the cost of maintaining a photo enforcement program.

"It's really not a cash cow," said David Brewster, spokesman for the City of Lakewood, which started its camera program in 2001, the first Washington city to do so.

"Off the top, we've got to pay money for sustaining the system and processing citations through the court," Brewster said. "Whatever is left over from that is diverted directly back to public safety."

A bill by Hurst would reduce the maximum fine associated with photo violations to $25, while Kastama's bill would make the fines equal to the cost of an average parking ticket.

Hurst's bill would also require all photo-enforced intersections to have yellow lights that last four seconds.


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