Traffic cameras may be making a comeback as cities take their case to Ohio Supreme Court

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AKRON, Ohio - The continuing legal battle for cities across Ohio to use traffic enforcement cameras by their own rules will be argued before the state's highest court on Tuesday.

As it currently stands, cities throughout Ohio can use speed and red light cameras, but they are restricted by rules set in a senate bill that many cities believe are unconstitutional.

Attorneys for the city of Dayton will be making oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court that will have far-reaching impact.

In a brief filed with the court, they claim Senate Bill 342, which imposed the rules, was intentionally written to handcuff cities that choose to have the cameras and violates their constitutional right to create their own local laws.

Attorneys for the city of Akron have filed a brief in support of Dayton's arguments calling the senate bill an unconstitutional infringement of municipal Home Rule rights.

Assistant Akron City Attorney Christopher Reece says the state cannot tell cities how to use traffic cameras just as it cannot order cities how much to pay their employees and cannot order a city to pave a certain street.

"The city of Dayton is going to argue, as most of the cities do, that the restrictions that were contained in that senate bill improperly impose rules of conduct on a city, they violate home rule, the city has the ability to rule itself and the state can't enact a law which dictates to a city how to do something," said Reece.

Both Dayton and Akron have also argued that there is evidence that the cameras do make streets safer.

"Approximately twenty Ohio cities have, or have had, ordinances providing for automated traffic photo-enforcement programs. Besides Dayton, these cities include Akron, Ashtabula, Campbell, Chillicothe, Cleveland, Columbus, East Cleveland, Garfield Heights, Hamilton, Heath, Middletown, Newburgh Heights, Parma, Parma Heights, Richmond Heights, Rutland, Springfield, Steubenville, Toledo, Trotwood, and West Carrolton, and Youngstown. These cities have passed automated traffic enforcement program ordinances to promote traffic safety; amounts collected from violators of these traffic ordinances are typically dedicated to public safety. Moreover, it is undisputed that traffic photo enforcement programs save lives, reduce accidents, and make roadways safer. In Dayton alone, there was a 45 percent decrease in red light related accidents, and a 30 percent decrease in overall accidents where photo enforcement cameras were installed."

In its brief the city of Dayton also argues that the rules are ridiculous :

"Even a cursory glance at the Contested Provisions of SB 342 renders these conclusions inescapable. While SB 342 requires an officer to be “present” when a traffic monitoring camera is in operation, it does not require the officer to be looking at the intersection, at the vehicle in question, or anything in particular while there. The Contested Provisions do not even require the officer to be awake! The reason the statute does not require the officer to do anything is that there is nothing for the officer to do at the location of an automated photo enforcement camera. The “automated” system was specifically designed to operate without a police officer."

The city of Akron currently operates six portable cameras that rotate through 38 different school zones and are used only during school hours.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the city of Dayton, cities across Ohio will be free to use their cameras again by their own rules.

"The law will be held unconstitutional and we will go back to square one with regard to how it existed before Senate Bill 342 was ever enacted and that was cities operate these systems based on their own rules , their own way they want to do it, and not because the state tells them to do it a certain way." said Reece.

Reece does not expect a decision from the court until sometime this summer.

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