Beware of effects from traffic cameras

We’ve heard it all before.

Adoption of speed camera usage by communities always is said to be for safety reasons — not for the significant financial gain camera use brings to the local government entity.

Howland Township is the latest to jump on board, with trustees approving Jan. 10 an operations contract with Blue Line Solutions, a private Tennessee-based company, putting into action trustees’ previous resolution to adopt handheld speed camera usage.

Under Ohio law, officers from unincorporated areas of the state, like Howland, are required to be present with each traffic camera. The law also dictates that tickets may not be issued unless the speeder exceeded the limit by at least 6 mph in a school zone or 10 mph in other locations; and it required a safety study to be conducted and a “public information campaign” be created to inform the public about use of the cameras. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled last year municipalities may not abide by these rules, but the ruling did not affect townships.

Howland police Chief Nick Roberts used safety reasons in his argument supporting camera usage. He said about 40,000 cars travel through the intersections of state Route 82 and Howland Wilson Road and state Routes 82 and 46 every day. With more than 700 crashes in 2017, Roberts said he wants to slow drivers and prevent distraction.

Now, we are all in favor of increased safety measures. But we have consistently argued that traffic cameras aren’t the answer. We believe many motorists will have no knowledge that they are being caught on camera until the ticket shows up in their mail several weeks later. How, we’ve asked, can that contribute to safer speeds?

Residents who, like we do, view the camera usage as nothing more than policing for profit, made similar arguments to trustees. Despite hearing concerns from residents against the program, Rick Clark, trustee chairman, said it was approved as a safety measure to solve the speeding issues in the township. He did acknowledge that revenue generated from the cameras also will help with the tight police budget.

Following a brief startup grace period, the contract calls for tickets to be issued by mail to the owner of the vehicle if the camera catches a driver going 10 mph over the speed limit, or 6 mph over in school zones. The contract calls for 32 percent of ticket revenue to go to the company and 68 percent to the township. Fine amounts have not yet been approved.

A similar program in Girard generated some $400,000 in citation revenue for the city in 2016, its first year of operations, sending more than $100,000 to the private company — from motorists of one city alone.

Not only do we oppose the use of speed cameras, we are equally disappointed in Trustees Matt Vansuch and James LaPolla, who made it a point to wait until after their November re-election bid to decide on the unpopular speed camera issue. The timing of this decision appears suspiciously political.

Further, we warn, trustees must remain very aware of pushback by motorists on the many private businesses in Howland. We suspect retailers already struggling to compete with online forces and other competition should not be asked to also face any negative impact speed cameras might have on local business traffic.