Hawaii County senator sponsors red light camera bill

  • Traffic attempts to move to the side as an ambulance passes through an intersection in 2015 in Pahoa. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald, file)

KAILUA-KONA — A Big Island senator hopes to create safer roadways by photographing motorists who run red lights.

Sen. Lorraine R. Inouye, D-North Hawaii, is sponsoring a bill that would establish a photo red light detector systems program. The purpose of the bill would be to deter motorists from running red lights and free up police officers to respond to priority calls.

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“This bill is almost going on 20 years,” Inouye said Friday. “It’s been discussed when I first got into the Senate.”

The senator hopes to have a hearing date set for the bill by next week.

According to Hawaii Police, in 2018 from from Jan. 1 to June 30, there were 110 red light violations islandwide and 44 in Kona. Maj. Robert Wagner said a red light violation is defined as when a motorist enters an intersection when the light is red.

“If you enter with yellow and leave when red that is not a red light violation,” he said.

Senate Bill 663 outlines numerous benefits to enacting the program. Not only are streets safer, but police officers are freed from “time-consuming duties” of traffic enforcement and have time to respond to priority calls. Also violators are less likely to go to court because of the photograph, which can be used as evidence against them.

Deputy Chief Kenneth Bugado said he believed installing a system such as the Photo Red Light Imaging Detector System would have a deterring effect on a driver’s conscious decision to run a red light.

“Of course, there are other drivers who commit the violation because of inattention or intoxication where deterrence of such a system would not be a factor,” Bugado said.

The legislation describes how the system would work. A camera would be positioned at intersections where red light violations are a major cause of collisions and would serve as a 24-hour deterrent to running a red light. With sensors buried under a crosswalk, there would be self-contained camera system mounted on a nearby structure.

“When a vehicle enters the intersection against a red light, the camera takes a telephoto color picture of the rear of the car, capturing the license plate,” the bill states. “A second wide-angle photograph takes in the entire intersection, including other traffic.”

The police department didn’t have statistics on the number of red light violations that occur at major intersections in West Hawaii. However, Wagner said intersections with higher speeds or ones connected to the highway tend to be more problematic than others as crash results are more serious.

“In Kona, fatalities are all over the place, but some areas are more problematic than others,” the major said. “Such as Queen K from Kona to Kawaihae, you have high speeds with only two lanes, (which is a) big problem as it is not a divided highway, so we get bad collisions.”

This equipment, Bugado said, would be effective at any heavily traveled intersection, especially at the intersections where there are long wait times at the red light.

“If a decision was made to implement this type of system, prior to doing so, a careful analysis on traffic accidents and traffic violations would be done to determine more precisely what intersections the equipment should be placed in,” he said.

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The program would be run on its own in each county allowing the counties to use collected fines to pay for the system. At this point, Inouye said, she didn’t know how much installing the program would cost.

“There are cameras available, to what extent I’m not sure,” she said.

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