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Editorial: Red-light cameras should be a local decision

Editorial: Red-light cameras should be a local decision

No reason to have to beg state to install legitimate traffic-safety controls

It seems silly that when a municipality wants to put into place a proven technology such as red-light cameras to help improve traffic enforcement and public safety, it has to go to the state Legislature for permission.

The city of Schenectady is the latest city weighing whether to seek permission to install the cameras at particularly dangerous intersections. One potential location is the Brandywine Avenue corridor (Route 146) between State Street and I-890, a busy mostly-four-lane road that cuts through an area full of businesses and residences. It's notorious, in particular, for vehicle-pedestrian accidents.

Installing red-light cameras at various points along the roadway would help increase safety by discouraging motorists from running red lights, illegally passing through crosswalks, blocking intersections, failing to stop at stop signs, passing stopped school buses and committing other acts that place other motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians in danger.

The cameras are not robo-cops designed to pad city coffers and boost insurance rates, and they're not another way for the NSA to spy on us. Violations start at just $50. The camera doesn't identify a driver, only the registrant, through the vehicle's license plate. Drivers don't have the violation go on their records or see their insurance rates go up because police can't tell who was driving.

The cameras are strictly safety-oriented. The fines, which go up to $100, are enough to serve as a deterrent to unsafe driving. Combined with signs warning motorists of the presence of the cameras, they can be one effective traffic enforcement tool among many.

Since they were introduced 50 years ago, the cameras have been put in use throughout the world. In the U.S., more than 500 municipalities in 24 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands allow them. Another 103 communities have cameras that monitor speeding.

But in order to install the cameras, municipalities must go to the trouble of seeking permission from the state Legislature to amend the state's Vehicle and Traffic Law.

If this was a new and untested technology, we could understand the need for the state to be careful about casually letting communities install the cameras.

But given that the technology is so common and has been proven to improve safety, there's no reason for the state to hand-pick the communities that get to use them. The process of seeking home-rule legislature takes time and expense for localities to prepare, as well as unnecessarily adds another bill to the pile of legislation that state lawmakers already don't have time to read.

Local governments should be able to decide for themselves whether the cameras are needed, whether they want to pay for them, how many they need, where they want to place them, and whether they want to burden local courts with administering citations.

Whether removing the state impediment means amending state Vehicle and Traffic law to explicitly allow the cameras, or creating a blanket new law, the Legislature should do it. By creating a statewide law, the state could create uniform standards and enforcement procedures to ensure motorists that the cameras are being employed consistently from community to community.

The city of Albany has sought permission this year to install the cameras. Schenectady is considering asking for permission, although time is running short in this legislative session. Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy has recently advocated for removing the layer of red tape that prevents cities from installing them on their own.

There's no more need for additional testing or experimentation.

We know the cameras work effectively.

It's time for the state Legislature to stop allocating permission piecemeal and allow any community to put them in place if it wants to.

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