CO Lawmakers Considering Statewide Ban of Photo Traffic Enforcement

Colorado lawmakers are currently considering a statewide ban on photo traffic enforcement (or red-light cameras) through Senate Bill (SB) 12-050, sponsored by Sen. Scott Renfroe in the Senate and Rep. Randy Baumgardner in the House. SB 12-050 has been assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee and in its current form the bill would:

… (R)epeal the authorization for municipalities to use automated vehicle identification systems to identify violators of traffic regulations and issue citations based on photographic evidence.

While photo traffic enforcement is normally a municipal matter, Jeremy P. Meyer of The Denver Post reports that a 2002 Colorado Supreme Court ruling reserves state legislators’ authority over municipal photo traffic enforcement. SB 12-050 comes on the heels of heated discussion over photo traffic enforcement across the Centennial State.

Several media outlets investigated photo traffic enforcement in Denver in 2011. On September 20 Heidi Hemmat, investigative reporter for Fox 31 Denver, shined light on driver frustration with a camera at 36th and Quebec in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood. On November 3 Rick Sallinger, investigative reporter for CBS 4, went further exploring the city’s decision to fine drivers who edged over the white line on the street without going through the intersection (white line infractions). On November 8, Todd Shepherd, investigative reporter, published a report that found 94 percent of tickets issued at the intersection of 36th and Quebec in Denver were for vehicles in the right lane.

Jeremy P. Meyer also reports a recent audit found the city recalibrated the cameras last year in order to go after drivers guilty of white line infractions. After public outcry the Denver City Council vowed to revisit the program, but ultimately decided to renew photo traffic enforcement and reduce the fine for white line infractions down to $40. The $75 fine for driving through an intersection will remain.

Meanwhile in Colorado Springs, in October Mayor Steve Bach and then-Interim Chief Peter Carey proposed ending the city’s pilot program saying it did not meet safety expectations.

One especially interesting aspect of SB 12-050 is that it includes the following exception:

… (E)xcept that a government entity or agent thereof or a toll road or toll highway company may use an automated vehicle identification system to assess tolls and charges for, and issue citations for violations relating to, high occupancy vehicle and high occupancy toll lanes pursuant to section 42-4-1012(1)(d) and to assess tolls and civil penalties for toll roads and highways pursuant to section 43-3-302, C.R.S. evidence obtained from such use shall not be reported to the department for any purpose, to any person or entity for use on any credit report or to any insurance company for insurance purposes.

This exception is important since the state already relies on photo traffic enforcement for several toll roads. As surface transportation infrastructure needs continue to grow, photo traffic enforcement will likely remain vital complementary technology for public and private road operators.

If SB 12-050 makes it out of the Senate, one wonders how Rep. Baumgardner’s experience working for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) will impact his ability to usher the bill through the House.

For more on Colorado surface transportation, see the state’s performance in Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report here. For more on photo traffic enforcement, see my previous posts here and here.