Another chapter in the sloppy history of red-light cameras in Kansas City and St. Louis concluded yesterday, as the Missouri Supreme Court determined the way both cities had employed the cameras was illegal.
Nevertheless, City Manager Troy Schulte of Kansas City said he probably would recommend continuation of the program — provided the company that provided the service can make changes to legalize the program.
Even though the program proved effective at reducing red-light-running wrecks at KC’s 17 photo-enforced intersections, I personally hope Mayor Sly James and the rest of the council see fit to kill this program.
Wisely, James told KC Star reporter Lynn Horsley he was withholding judgment. He said he would confer with Schulte and police officials before making up his mind.
Horsley reported that St. Louis officials, who appear to be more deeply committed to the program, said they intended to prepare a new ordinance that complies with the court’s rulings.
I think there’s a good chance St. Louis will proceed with a new program and KC will drop it. James isn’t dead-set on it, and we’ve got a new city council that has the benefit of seeing the program’s checkered history.
For obvious reasons, most residents loathe the program. It has the appearance of a classic Big-Brother-is-watching intrusion. In addition, the only image the cameras had to capture was the license plate number. Didn’t matter who was driving, the registered owner was responsible for the ticket.
The legal problem, however, was that running a red light is a moving violation, which requires the assessment of “points” against a person’s driver’s license. But KC and St. Louis were treating the citations as something akin to parking tickets and not assessing points. Obviously, you can’t assess points unless you know for sure who was driving.
Now, the company that runs the KC and St. Louis program says it is able to provide images of the people driving the cars, which, in theory, would allow specific drivers to be cited and assessed points.
I say…yeah, sure. Technology has greatly improved, yes, but it’s going to take some fantastic camera to record clear facial images through vehicle windshields. If KC or St. Louis tries to implement an altered program, I think we will see thousands of identity challenges, and perhaps another trip to the Supreme Court.
At one time, I favored the camera program because statistics indicated it achieved its goal of reducing red-light-running wrecks. But after all that has transpired, and after it has been established that both cities were running clearly illegal programs, I’ve changed my mind.
There’s another factor that went into my change of heart. In 2014, I was spending some weekends in St. Louis and staying at a Drury Inn, off I-44, at a spaghetti-junction intersection. It was a headache navigating that intersection, where Wilson Road, Hampton Avenue and Sulphur Avenue converge. Plus, Hampton goes from four lanes to two.
Not only was it difficult to tell who had the right of way at times and if you could go right on red at various places, but on top of everything else, “Photo Enforced” signs bore down on you, daring you to make one questionable move. For me, it was like being on an important phone call and having someone in the same room shouting advice at you.
No, it’s time for those damn cameras — and those Big Brother “Photo Enforced” signs — to come down. Let’s go back to having the cops, not cameras, monitor the most dangerous intersections. Let the cops turn on the flashing lights, pull people over and write tickets to the people whose driver’s licenses they hold in their hands. Let’s go back to the old-fashioned way of nabbing red-light runners…and charge the points.