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Kansas City seeks to change law, resume red-light camera enforcement

Updated: 2013-11-26T06:41:17Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City could begin writing red-light camera tickets again as early as Dec. 6.

On Tuesday, the City Council is scheduled to vote on tweaks to the existing red-light camera law that try to address concerns raised in a recent Missouri Court of Appeals ruling.

If the council approves the proposed changes, the new law would take effect 10 days after that and red-light camera enforcement could resume, the city’s attorneys say.

“We’re basically readjusting this,” said Councilman Scott Taylor, a member of the Public Safety Committee, which endorsed the changes today. “We believe the program works.”

Kansas City stopped writing red-light camera tickets on Nov. 6 after the appeals panel voided the red-light camera law in Ellisville, a St. Louis suburb. Because Kansas City’s law was similar to the Ellisville law, Kansas City’s Law Department said the appeals court ruling put the city’s red-light camera program in legal limbo.

But at today’s committee meeting, City Prosecutor Lowell Gard told the Public Safety Committee that there is a way to get around the Ellisville ruling.

Gard said that since November 2011, Kansas City had followed the example of Ellisville and other cities in assigning liability of red-light camera tickets to the owner of the vehicle that ran the red light.

But with the proposed change, Kansas City would assign liability to the vehicle’s driver, which was the way Kansas City’s law was written before November 2011.

Because the camera takes a picture of the rear license plate of the vehicle running a red light, the citation first goes to the vehicle’s registered owner. The proposed ordinance still presumes the vehicle’s owner is also the driver, but with the change, the owner could then tell the court whether someone else was driving and the city could reissue the ticket to the driver.

Gard said that the change gets around the concern raised by the appeals court ruling and conforms to another appeals court ruling.

Under both the old law and the proposed law, the red-light ticket carries no points against a person’s driving record.

Committee members supported the change, saying they want the red-light camera program to continue because it has a proven track record of reducing red-light running and accidents. They said they want the city’s enforcement of the law to pick up again as soon as possible.

The program began in spring 2009. For most of the time since then, the city has operated 29 cameras at 17 intersections.

Violations peaked in August 2009 with more than 11,000 citations that month, but now average 2,500 to 3,000 tickets per month.

Police Sgt. Grant Ruark told the committee that studies clearly show the program has improved driver behavior and public safety. The number of accidents at those 17 intersections dropped nearly 30 percent between 2008, the year before the program began, and 2012, the most recent full year of the program.

Ruark said video from red-light cameras has helped investigators solve at least one fatal accident and several crimes. He said the video also has helped exonerate drivers.

The cameras are operated by American Traffic Solutions Inc., but Kansas City police officers review the footage before issuing tickets and reject more than 20 percent of the cases ATSsends to them.

Jason Norton of American Traffic Solutions said 86 percent of Kansas City’s red-light camera offenders have gotten only one ticket and only 11 percent got two tickets. Just 3 percent got three or more tickets.

The proposed law change does not solve the problem of about 3,500 violations that the Kansas City cameras have detected since Nov. 6, when the current law came into question and the program was suspended. Those violators have not received tickets. City officials said they will wait to see whether the Missouri Supreme Court agrees to review the Ellisville ruling before deciding how to proceed with those violations.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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