State might OK red-light cameras

A bill advances to install devices that would catch drivers breaking the law
Honolulu Star Advertiser - February 20, 2013
Marcel Honoré

A new bill to install red-light cameras at intersections across Oahu is gaining speed, and state lawmakers are encouraged that this year’s effort could succeed where previous attempts hit the skids.

Senate Bill 693 would create a three-year pilot program allowing for cameras to catch and cite drivers who run red lights. Similar red-light camera programs have been implemented across the U.S., but such traffic enforcement has also attracted debate. In 2011 Los Angeles County opted to cancel its controversial camera program when officials there revealed that the fines issued to drivers were voluntary.

Efforts to create a red-light camera program in Hawaii have died in years past. However, SB 693’s backers say this year is different because it’s advancing in the Senate — the chamber where the idea previously stalled. So far it has cleared the Senate committees on Transportation and International Affairs; Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs; and Technology and the Arts.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee is up next, although the measure hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing there yet.

“It’s about saving lives and making our roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists,” said Sen. Will Espero, who chairs the Public Safety Committee and introduced the bill in this year’s session. Espero added that SB 693 also faces better odds of passing than did pervious years’ bills since it would limit the cameras to Oahu. “We’ll see the pros and cons” and decide whether the program is worth continuing, Espero said Tuesday.

The cameras would help “because our police officers can’t be at every corner to prevent accidents from happening,” added Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Maka¬¬kilo), who co-introduced the bill, in a statement last week.

So far there’s no set date when the program would take effect.

The proposal also has its opponents, as Hawaii’s Office of the Public Defender and the American Civil Liberties Union oppose the measure. They argue that many registered vehicle owners would receive tickets for running a red light even if they weren’t driving, that the cameras could incorrectly identify some license plates and that the program would invade the public’s privacy. Tickets would be mailed too long after the violation occurred for drivers to effectively challenge them, the ACLU further argues.

The proposed camera program faces its own challenges: It’s not clear yet how it would be funded, as lawmakers removed the part of the bill that would appropriate state funds, Espero (D, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point) said. He added that he plans to discuss potential funding sources with his fellow Ways and Means Committee members. No cost estimate for the program was given, but Espero said it would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The red-light camera program would differ from the so-called 2002 “van cam” program, in which crews in vans parked along state highways using cameras to catch speeders. The state discontinued the program after just three months following strong public outcry and a legal challenge.

If the bill passes the Senate, it moves to the House, where a similar measure introduced by Rep. Joe Souki passed in 2012. Souki (D, Wai¬hee-Wai¬ehu-Wai¬luku) now serves as House speaker.