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Give green light again to red-light cameras

Want to teach a child to count? Take her to a busy Charlotte intersection. Wait for the light to turn red, then have her count the number of cars that speed through.

She’ll have her 1-2-3s down in no time.

As most Charlotte motorists will attest, stoplights are mere suggestions to some drivers. They barrel through red lights thousands of times a year, endangering everyone on the road, while almost never being caught.

The City of Charlotte should throw the brakes on this hazard with a simple click – of a red-light camera.

Charlotte had the cameras at 22 intersections for eight years, with impressive results. The number of red-light violations dropped 70 percent in the first year.

The city ended the program in 2006 after the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that 90 percent of revenues had to go to the public schools. The city was paying 70 percent of citation revenues to the camera vendor. That ruling still stands, but the city has options. More on those in a moment.

But first, the case for the cameras: They save lives. Study after study has demonstrated that. A 2005 N.C. State study of Raleigh’s program found right-angle crashes dropped 42 percent and rear-end crashes dropped 25 percent.

Fatalities fell by 49 percent at Florida intersections that have the cameras, according to a recent study by the Florida legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability. The number of intersection crashes dropped in 56 of the 59 studied communities with red-light cameras, that state found.

Fayetteville is considering bringing back its cameras. That city’s engineering director says side-angle crashes were cut 50 to 60 percent at some intersections when they had the cameras.

All of this, potentially, at no cost to the taxpayer, because the program pays for itself and then some.

Red-light runners whine that it’s an invasion of privacy. That it creates a Big Brother state. That it’s just an excuse to bring in cash.

In fact, the program simply uses technology to catch law-breakers. Don’t want to fill the city’s coffers with fines? Here’s an idea: Don’t run a red light. As for Big Brother, Charlotte has cameras all over town already.

Critics also complain that there’s no proof they were the one behind the wheel. Fine. Send in an affidavit telling the city who was, and the city will be happy to redirect the bill.

Now, about that court ruling. The city of Raleigh got around it by operating under a local bill that lets it use citation revenues to pay for the program. Anything beyond that goes to Wake County schools. No money comes to or goes from the city’s general fund. Charlotte could and should file a similar local bill.

Even if that falls through, Charlotte could give 90 percent of the proceeds to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, use 10 percent to pay for the program and cover the rest from its general fund. The cost would likely be less than $1 million annually, a tiny piece of the city’s half-billion-dollar operating budget.

Safer roads, saved lives, and a boost for schools. If you’re a law-abiding driver, what’s not to like?

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