Green Light for Automatic Cameras

It’s hard to find fault with a program that saves lives, improves traffic safety and makes money all at the same time. But Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) has found a way to do exactly that.

At issue is a nationwide experimental program that places automatic cameras at intersections to snap photographs of motorists who run red lights. Drivers thus caught in the act receive a $270 traffic ticket in the mail.

In Oxnard, where cameras were installed at intersections two years ago, the number of red-light violations has dropped 42%, according to a study released last week. During those two years there have been no red-light fatalities in Oxnard, in contrast to two deaths recorded the previous year.

The city, recognizing a good thing, plans to make the program permanent. Port Hueneme is eager to follow suit.


State legislation approved last week could help more cities join the program. The Assembly approved a bill that makes permanent the authority of local governments to use the film evidence to capture red-light violators. The bill now goes to Gov. Pete Wilson, who is expected to sign it into law.

So what’s McClintock’s beef?

He thinks the program has been sending tickets to some drivers who don’t deserve them. “The camera can’t tell the difference between a wanton act and a harmless split-second misjudgment,” he said.

What’s more, he thinks cities are using the cameras not so much to lower accident rates but to raise cash. “They have been nothing but huge revenue machines for government wherever they have been installed.”

We have a hard time imagining under what circumstances it is OK to run a red light. If the program is improving traffic safety, teaching a hard-to-ignore message to drivers who gamble with the lives of others, and more than paying for itself to boot, we say bring on the cameras.

And if you’re a driver who thinks red lights are just for the other guy, say “cheese.”