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New WA law gives green light to more red light and speed zone cameras

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(The Center Square) – Washington drivers may soon see a lot more red light cameras and other automated enforcement cameras across the state, thanks to a law that took effect last month.

The law makes it possible for cities and counties to deploy traffic cameras in more places to crack down on violators in hopes of preventing crashes.

House Bill 2384 allows cities and counties to install cameras at crosswalks to catch drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians. Cameras can also be mounted on the front of transit buses to take photos of vehicles traveling in designated transit-only lanes.

According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, 810 people were killed in fatal traffic collisions in 2023, the highest number of traffic deaths since 1990. A record 157 pedestrians and 141 motorcyclists were killed that year.

Rep. Brandy Donaghy, D-Everett, sponsored the bill, telling members of the House Transportation Committee during this year’s legislative session, “These cameras can be a deterrent to the behavior that they look for, and that means people drive more safely and more people make it home.”

Before installing cameras, cities and counties must collect data showing why putting a camera in a certain area is necessary and provide annual reports on the number of tickets issued, as well as collision data.

Republican lawmakers did not support the new law. They criticized several aspects of the measure, including reduced penalties for low-income violators. The new law allows the penalty to be cut in half for registered vehicle owners who are recipients of state public assistance, other than Medicaid, if they ask for the reduction.

“Anytime that we’re classifying certain groups of people into categories of fines, I’m completely opposed to that because if you’re speeding, you’re speeding, and it doesn’t matter if you’re on public assistance or you’re wealthy,” Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, told The Center Square.

Tim Burgess, Seattle’s deputy mayor for public safety, testified in favor of the measure this legislative session.

“The city of Seattle has been using automatic enforcement cameras for 17 years,” Burgess said. “Perhaps the greatest improvement we’ve seen is around our schools, where the number of citations issued there has dropped dramatically, and 90% of people who receive a citation from one of those cameras never receive a second notice.”

Barkis said the law’s allowance for reduced fines for lower-income drivers reflects a broader sentiment among majority-party Democrats.

“Where we see reduction in penalties, reduction in enforcement, reduction through the broad spectrum of crime for several years, and we keep putting these into different categories of society, we’ve seen the opposite effect,” Barkis said. “It hasn’t changed behavior in a positive way; it’s actually made things worse because they’ve gotten away with so much.”

He went on to say, “We saw an expansion of red light cameras around 10 years ago, and many of those were removed because they weren’t really having any significant impact on safety,” Barkis noted. “They were revenue generators, and there was a lot of pushback from the public.”

Barkis said he’s concerned that clearing the way for a lot more cameras will lead to local governments becoming reliant on the revenue.

The city of Auburn took down its red light cameras in 2014. There was concern over whether they were actually reducing crashes, and in some cases leading to more rear-end crashes as drivers slammed on the brakes to avoid a ticket.

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