Wednesday, September 9, 2015
By Marc Kovac
Youngstown’s use of speed-monitoring devices to issue civil fines to speeders appears to meet the requirements of a new state law passed late last year.
That’s the preliminary view of the primary sponsor of the legislation – and an outspoken critic of automated traffic-monitoring devices.
Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said Youngstown’s decision to use the devices with an officer present meets the letter of Ohio law on the matter.
“When a cop is present, I feel differently about it,” he said.
Youngstown is using the mobile traffic cameras in school zones, on state Route 711 and on Interstate 680 between South Avenue and Meridian Road. The city started enforcement Aug. 18 after a monthlong warning period.
As of last Friday, nearly 1,800 tickets have been recorded for speeders, with civil fines of $100 to $150. Citations started going out in the mail Tuesday. The city keeps 65 percent of the revenue with the rest going to Optotraffic, the Maryland company that administers the program.
Late last year, state lawmakers passed and the governor signed into law legislation requiring officers to be on hand at all times when traffic cameras are in use.
The legislation was moved by Seitz and others, who said the automated cameras were little more than a money grab for communities, with a large portion of citation proceeds going to camera companies. Opponents also said the devices at times incorrectly alleged traffic violations, and it was difficult for citizens to counter such claims.
Law enforcement and other groups opposed the legislation, saying red-light cameras cut down on traffic accidents. Requiring an officer to be present, they said, would make their use unfeasible.
Many Ohio cities have stopped using red-light cameras, though several are challenging the new state law. A handful of other cities, such as Youngstown, Akron and Parma, are using speed cameras.
Seitz said as long as an officer is present, speed-camera use is allowed under state law.
“I understand motorists are upset,” but there’s nothing in the law that we passed last December” that would inhibit Youngstown’s ability to use the speed cameras, he said.
Seitz also said he has no current plans to introduce legislation to hinder communities’ ability to use traffic-monitoring cameras operated by officers.
“If they’re willing to devote their law enforcement that way,” then “that’s truly a matter for them to decide,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, who voted against the red-light camera law changes last year, said Tuesday that he doesn’t see a lot of difference between officers checking motorists’ speed using radar guns or using the new devices to issue citations.
“As long as there’s an officer there, I truthfully don’t see a practical difference,” he said. “There’s still an officer there. They’re shooting a device at your car, whether it’s a radar gun or a camera gun. If you’re speeding, you’re going to get a ticket.”
Schiavoni said he isn’t considering follow-up legislation on the issue, as long as the instruments being used produce valid results and the process in place for issuing tickets and considering appeals is fair.
“As long as there’s still a proper venue to appeal that and these show to be accurate ... I don’t have a real problem with it,” he said, adding, “It’s something that we have to keep our eyes open for. There’s going to be a lot of public input and possibly outcry on this.”