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Red Light Cameras Make Columbus Debut

The first red light cameras in Columbus begin operating March 7th at two of the city's most accident prone intersections. The cameras will record the license plates of drivers who enter the intersections after the traffic signal has turned red. City officials say the cameras will reduce injuries and fatalities. Critics believe they're an easy way for government to pump up revenue.

Drivers who run a red light at the intersections of Cleveland Avenue and Spring Street or North Fourth Street and East Fifth will be photographed. But according to the city's assistant public safety director Barb Seckler, there's a grace period before tickets and fines are issued.

"For the first 30 days we will give warnings and do our very best to let the public know that these intersections are equipped with red light cameras. There are really no secrets here."

Because the intersections with cameras, Seckler says, are clearly marked. By spring, 13 Columbus intersections will be camera-equipped - part of a city initiative called Columbus Focus on Safety.

"We want to save people from injury and fatality by preventing some of these t-bone accidents where somebody is hit broadside. And we are optimistic that in the long run we are able to reduce red-light running and therefore reduce injuries and fatalities," Seckler says.

After each camera has been operation for 30 days, red light runners will be mailed a $95 ticket and photos of their license plate. Owners who claim someone else was driving may file an affidavit to redirect to the fine, and, Seckler, says drivers can appeal the ticket.

Studies have shown the cameras do decrease a certain type of accident - but may increase another. John Miller with the Virginia Transportation Research Council, says the group studied red light camera statistics in metropolitan Fairfax County.

"We saw a definite drop in those red light running crashes which is good, but we saw a definite increase in rear end crashes which is bad," Miller says.

Miller says there was a 28% decrease in traffic light running, but a 56% increase in rear end collisions. Some critics believe increased revenue -- not safety - is the motivation for red light cameras. Former Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell suggested last year that the cameras could help shore up the city's revenue shortfall. In Columbus, the private company Redflex is paying for the installation and will get a large percentage of each fine.

There are several companies marketing products they claim will obscure license plates from red light cameras. Joe Scott, the spokesman for PhotoBlocker.com, says money - not safety - is the reason they're being installed.

"If people did not run red lights, these programs would not make any money. And these are private companies that are running the program. So if their ultimate goal is to reduce red light running and get it down to zero. That means that these companies wouldn't make any money, Scott says.

The Ohio legislature continues to study various red light camera regulations.