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Kansas City drivers disagree on possible return of red light cameras

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Posted at 8:43 PM, Apr 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-04 21:43:42-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There's still a conversation on red light cameras, even with Kansas City, Missouri's suspension of the cameras in 2012 and the state of Missouri ruling them unconstitutional in 2015.

Mayor Quinton Lucas posed a question on March 25 to his followers on X: “With fatality auto crashes reaching new highs, what are your thoughts on returning red light cameras to the community like what’s being evaluated in St. Louis?”

Lucas quoted his tweet with data from the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department that showed the number of traffic deaths from 2020 to 2023 were up increase in fatal crashes over the past three years.

There were 85 fatal crashes in 2022 in KCMO and 90 in 2023.

The total number of deaths surpassed 100 for the first time since in three years.

“We saw increases in aggressive driving and speeding, distracted driving, and to some extent, they really continued after the pandemic,” said Ron Achelphol, Director of Transportation and Environment, for the Mid-America Regional Council.

MARC provides transportation planning for the region, which includes compiling data on transportation-related fatalities.

That data is used in the organization's Transportation Safety Plan, which includes ways to help cut traffic deaths each year to zero by 2050.

“Some of the strategies to work on there are to provide more visibility for the traffic control devices, like traffic signals or stop signs that are at those intersections,” Achelphol said.

Reducing speeds, improving visibility and traffic safety education are among the strategies that align with changes KC 4 Safe Streets, an organization that advocates for safer streets.

Sarah Israel, a founder of KC 4 Safe Streets, and a cyclist, said it is easy to see what safety measures are necessary when you’re not in a motor vehicle constantly.

Israel started the organization after a friend was killed in a 2019 traffic crash.

“We need to slow our drivers down,” Israel said.

KSHB 41 met with Israel at the intersection of West 39th Street and Southwest Trafficway, one of the city’s busiest intersections.

It was also a location notorious for its red light cameras.

“We need better road design that doesn’t allow people to achieve those type of speeds when there’s pedestrians around, when there’s other people driving with them,” Israel said.

Regardless of whether red light cameras return, Israel wants community input.

“Having our leaders be more responsive to what their community is telling them, to what the evidence is pointing toward, would be a very helpful measure in improving our safety,” she said.

KSHB 41 wanted to get more community input on red light cameras.

We asked drivers what they thought about red light cameras.

“I wasn’t here in Kansas City, but I lived in St. Louis as the red light cameras were into existence,” said Lynsay Beck, a Kansas City driver. “I actually got a ticket in the mail.”

Her dislike of the cameras reflects the reason why they were banned.

“I think it’s totally unconstitutional,” Beck said. “I mean, what if it wasn’t me driving the vehicle?”

Regina Taylor embraced the oversight red light cameras could bring.

“If it’s for capturing people who are committing crimes and causing someone to lose their life, absolutely,” Taylor said.

Taylor wanted to be sure red light camera photos clearly identify the face of the person driving and not give tickets the old way, to the person to whom the vehicle was registered.

Facial recognition technology was considered before the cameras were banned statewide, and it’s now a consideration in St. Louis as they evaluate bringing the cameras back.

When the cameras were in use, violations captured by the cameras were $100.

“Roughly, I took off work 10 to 20 times just to get these tickets dismissed because the turn I was doing was right off the highway,” said Charon Thompson, a KC driver who was around when the cameras were first introduced in 2009.

Concerns about taxpayer money went into several driver reasoning for saying no to cameras returning.

“That money is taxpayer money that could be spent on better road design,” Israel said.

“I get so mad when I see my paycheck stub,” Beck said. “So, are they gonna raise the earnings tax even higher so they can make these lights go into effect?”

Thompson got a ticket at the intersection of East 55th Street and Bruce R. Watkins Memorial Drive, an area where people recall both large numbers of speeders and lots of traffic tickets.

The Arizona-based camera company, American Traffic Solutions, said the cameras were effective while they were in Kansas City.

The station's reporting at the time showed the city made over $2 million from the cameras.

Despite a clear increase in traffic fatalities, Israel and others aren’t convinced there is a direct correlation between red light cameras and fatal crashes.

Between November 2012 and November 2013, while the cameras were suspended, the data ATS compiled at each intersection showed a 48% jump in the number of times its cameras were triggered.

That suggested more incidents or near-misses with the cameras gone.

“Related to aggressive driving, the kinds of collisions we see at intersections can be especially dangerous,” Achelphol said. “The T-bone crashes where a car drives into the side of another car can really result in very serious injuries and fatalities.”

However, the rise in fatalities can also be attributed to continuous technological advancements that were not as life-threatening in the 10 to 20 years ago.

“Vehicles have gotten larger, and they’ve gotten more technologically complex,” Achelphol said. “I think that they have actually contributed to people feeling a little over confident driving them and disregarding kind of long-standing safety practices, not obeying speed limits, driving aggressively.”

Kansas City has not announced any official plans to re-introduce red light cameras. In response to questions from KSHB 41 about their return, the mayor’s office sent this reply:

“We continue to research in tandem with the City’s legal department and if we were to move forward with a proposal, it would be in the form of an ordinance,” a city spokesperson said.