Caven Wade

(UM Legislative News Service) Lawmakers unanimously tabled a bill that would have allowed cities or towns to implement cameras at traffic intersections, so called “red-light cameras” to help enforce traffic laws.

Under the bill, however, those cameras could not lead to giving citations.

Rep. Ed Stafman, D-Bozeman, presented House Bill 414 to the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 14.

“I am honestly not passionate one way or another about the red light cameras, but I am passionate about local control and I think that there is no better example of where local control belongs than when it comes to regulating traffic in your town,” Stafman said. “It’s not an issue for the state.”

Stafman said the bill was introduced in the name of Kelly Fulton, a 40-year-old teacher in Bozeman who was fatally struck by a driver while riding his bicycle last October. 

Currently under Montana law it is prohibited for cities to have a red-light camera posted on stoplights. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing red-light cameras to be placed at intersections within cities to catch traffic violations, with eight states, including Montana, prohibiting them.

Red-light cameras, or modernly referred to as automatic license plate readers, are used as an automated law enforcement tool that photographs vehicles when they have entered into a traffic zone after the light has already shifted to red.

Logan Smith, interim executive director of Bike Walk Montana, said in support of the bill that this bill would make biking and walking on streets safer for Montanans in cities such as Bozeman and Missoula. 

“It will increase the safety through encouraging safe driving habits, ensuring the safety of drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike,” Smith said. “It’s well documented and studied that automated traffic control systems and red-light cameras have resulted in a reduction of crashes.”

Smith said that the implementation of the systems also has the ability to reduce the severity of intersection accidents and that over 80% of pedestrians fatally injured on roadways happen in urban areas.

“It is a practical approach in allowing state and local areas to consider where to place automated traffic control systems. We believe this bill will benefit all Montanans,” Smith said. “HB 414 will make an impact on the health and safety of our communities and all users.”

Three other individuals spoke in support of the bill and shared similar sentiments to Smith.

Robin Turner, representing the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, opposed the bill, saying that there is a fundamental fairness being stripped away from residents if a ticket is issued through the mail to a person who wasn’t driving a vehicle.

“What you’re doing and what cities are doing in this particular situation is they’re shifting the burden of proof to that person who’s accused rather than the state having to meet its own burden,” Turner said.

Turner said this would be a violation of the Montana Constitution’s guaranteed right to privacy. She said that this could be used for data collection, and their implementation of these tools would stray from the mission of the bill.