Ohio Court Blocks State’s Restrictions on Red-Light Cameras

Published August 5, 2019

An Ohio court has granted an injunction blocking a new state law intended to restrict the use of red-light cameras.

Under the law, cities using automated traffic-enforcement cameras would have to report to the state any revenues generated by the fines from the cameras. Additionally, the law requires municipal courts to handle all the tickets resulting from the cameras.

The law would have taken effect on July 3, but on June 28 Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Myron Duhart granted the City of Toledo’s request for an injunction to block implementation while the issue is litigated.

The restrictions on the use of red-light traffic cameras were included in a transportation budget bill signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine on April 3.

Making Safety Paramount

Reducing the amount of money a city receives for red-light camera citations helps keep local governments accountable and makes safety the main objective of traffic-law enforcement, says Greg Lawson, a research fellow at The Buckeye Institute.

“We have some general skepticism regarding the motivation of cities to use red-light cameras,” Lawson said. “However, recent law changes in Ohio will help to assure that if they are used, they are being used to truly improve public safety rather than pad local governments’ pockets.”

The new law would reduce cities’ financial incentive to install red-light cameras, says Lawson.

“This is done by reducing, dollar for dollar, the amount a city gets from the [state’s] local government fund by the amount received in red-light camera violations,” Lawson said. “While cities may not like this, and current litigation certainly suggests they don’t, this is a good policy designed to put guardrails in place for citizens while still assuring their safety.”

Learning from Others

Ohio should follow the lead of states such as Michigan and California where red-light cameras are illegal or are being abandoned, says Jim Walker, director of the National Motorists Association Foundation, a driver advocacy group.

“Red-light and speed cameras are illegal to use in Michigan,” Walker said. “When bills were introduced in 2013 to allow them, the combined opposition and testimony in hearings from the Police Officers Association of Michigan, the ACLU, the Campaign for Liberty, Abate, the Mackinac Center think tank, the judges association, the National Motorists Association, skeptical editorials in both major Detroit newspapers, and others caused the bills to be withdrawn.”

Actions have been taken at the local level to eliminate the use of video enforcement in the Golden State, says Walker.

“There are now 82 California communities that have ended or banned red-light cameras, leaving only 29 active programs in a state that once had over 100 programs,” Walker said.

Engineering vs. Enforcement

If safety is the primary motivator for the use of red-light cameras, states should shift their focus away from enforcement and toward engineering, says Walker.

“Allowing for-profit ticket camera companies to play any part in speed or red-light enforcement virtually guarantees that the true focus and goal will be profits, not safety,” Walker said. “Safety comes from proper roadway engineering, not enforcement.”

Hayley Sledge ([email protected]) writes from Dayton, Ohio.