Lawmakers hear bill that would allow local government to set up traffic enforcement cameras

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Using automated cameras to snap pictures of speeders or red-light runners has been illegal in Nevada for about 20 years now, but things could soon change.

Lawmakers in the Nevada Legislature heard Senate Bill 43 Tuesday.  The bill would allow local governments to set up automated cameras to catch traffic scofflaws. 

In four separate sessions over the last 20 years, Nevada lawmakers have tried to repeal or amend the state’s prohibition on automated traffic enforcement cameras. But every time, those efforts have failed. 

Now, Senate Bill 43 seeks to allow local governments to set up traffic cameras to issue citations that would be mailed to speeders or red-light runners. The bill was heard Tuesday, but it was met with a skeptical audience of both liberals and conservates in the Senate Committee on Growth and Infrastructure. 

Republican and Democratic senators asked whether accidents would increase if motorists slammed on their brakes to avoid going through a camera-monitored intersection. They wondered if cameras would be set up in lower-income areas, where fines would hurt poorer drivers the most. They also asked why the usual presumption of innocence wouldn’t apply because registered owners would get the ticket, and then have to prove they weren’t driving the car to avoid the fines, which would be at least $50. 

But the administrator of the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety Administrator said the idea was designed to reduce fatal accidents and injuries.  Amy Davey showed the committee that in 2017 — 311 people died on Nevada roads. According to Davey, too many drivers are just taking chances. 

“Risky driving behavior is a cost-benefit proposition,” Davey said. If I commit a traffic infraction, will I be caught?  Can I get away with pushing through this red light, or with driving fast?  However, few of us are ever on the road alone.”

Also speaking in support of the bill were representatives from the Metro Police Department and the Nevada conference of police and sheriffs, who said cameras could work when other efforts to get drivers to slow down have not. 

Against the bill was an odd coalition made up of Conservative advocacy groups, trial lawyers and the ACLU.  They all opposed the bill on grounds, including the idea that more surveillance of citizens is a bad idea. That mirrors the discussions that took place in 1999 when lawmakers passed the ban on automated cameras in the first place. 

Nationwide, local governments in 23 states and the District of Columbia use red-light cameras to catch violators. In seven states, including Nevada, such enforcement is banned by law. Based on the testimony in Tuesday’s hearing, it looks like there’s still work to be done on this bill.

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