INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A new push is underway for a camera crackdown on Indiana roads. Under the proposal, drivers caught on video speeding through a construction zone or school zone, or illegally passing a school bus, could get a ticket in the mail.
According to figures from AAA, 14 states now have some form of speed camera in place, largely in construction zones or school zones. Another 16 states have expressly banned the cameras for certain types of use.
The key question behind the camera controversy: will it make Hoosier roads safer or just make money?CONE ZONE DANGER
I-Team 8 rode along with Indiana State Police Trooper Susan Rinschler to get a firsthand account of speeds in local construction zones. In her three years patrolling the roads around Indianapolis, she says distracted driving has become increasingly problematic.
“People are a lot more distracted then they ever were. And, it’s not just texts anymore. Your cell phone can give you just about every piece of information you ever wanted. But, that time you take to glance down can cause problems very quickly. Because a lot of the people we see are following each other too closely, they don’t have enough stopping time in the event something unexpected happens. And, that happens a lot in work zones,” Rinschler said.
To prove it, Rinschler used a device called Light Activated Radar, or LIDAR, to clock traffic along a stretch of I-65 South and I-465 South. Within seconds, she called the speeds she saw troubling.
“They’re anywhere from 65-70 miles an hour,” she said. “Nobody is even paying attention to the regular speed limit, let alone the construction speed limit.”
Asked if she could spend her entire day issuing tickets there, Rinschler quickly nodded.
“I could get one after another, every day” she said. “There’s no doubt. And, I have no doubt a lot of them would tell me they had no idea how fast they were going. And, that’s scary, especially when there are people’s lives at stake out here.”THE ULTIMATE PRICE
Just before dawn on May 9, 2014, John Alsup learned how quickly that speed can turn deadly.
“My dad called me and said that there had been a wreck on I-69,” he recalled. “I told him dad – that’s Coty Joe’s job. And, I just had this sinking feeling. I knew right then and there for some reason that Coty had been hit.”
Twenty-four-year-old Coty Joe Demoss was picking up orange construction barrels at the end of his shift alongside his co-worker, 49-year-old Kenneth Duerson, when a pickup truck slammed into a nearby road sign. The impact to Demoss and Duerson was immediate and devastating.
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Both men were pronounced dead at the scene. Alsup, who also works in construction, lost his cousin, co-worker and friend that day. The grief was overwhelming.
- READ MORE: Two construction workers killed on I-69
“I couldn’t breathe,” he told I-Team 8. “I walked into the bedroom trying to tell my wife and I just couldn’t catch myself. There’s not a word for it. It was awful.”
Police ticketed the driver of the pickup for speeding in a construction zone.
But, that served as little comfort to Alsup as he returned to work on the road.
“I actually went back to the same job, the same spot, and was on the same paver that he was on the night that it had happened,” Alsup said. “And, I remember looking out at the traffic speeding by, and (thinking): we’re not just cones out there, you know? We are people. We want to get home to our family as well.”A NUMBERS GAME
Though construction workers face a risk on the roads, statistics show motorists are at a much higher risk of injury or death in a construction zone. In 2013, the last year of full data available, AAA reported 3,498 work zone accidents in Indiana, totaling $67 million in damage and causing at least 10 deaths.
Indiana also recorded the eighth highest rate of construction worker deaths among all states from 2003-2013, according to statistics gathered by the Centers for Disease Control.
But, statewide, figures obtained by I-Team 8 through the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) show just 2,138 guilty verdicts were issued on citations for speeding in a work zone in 2014, despite nearly double the number of accidents the prior year.
The numbers are even more staggering near schools.
According to AAA, Indiana school bus drivers reported 485,820 cars illegally passing them while their stop arms were deployed statewide in 2013. That included 12,960 illegal passes on the right hand side of the bus, between the bus door where children exit and the sidewalk.
But, statistics from the LSA show just 406 guilty verdicts were issued on citations for the offense in 2014.
In most cases, there were simply no police officers nearby to observe the offense.
The lawmakers behind House Bill 1404 told I-Team 8 the time has come for a new approach.SLOWDOWN CRACKDOWN
“We need to try something different,” said Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis), one of several bi-partisan sponsors of the bill. “So, we’re going to tell them: we’ve got a camera here, and you’re going to get hit pretty hard if you speed through. So, why don’t you reconsider?”
Under DeLaney’s bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) and Rep. Milo Smith (R-Columbus), speed cameras armed with automatic radar detectors and high resolution lenses could be installed on the swing stop arm of any school bus, in any construction zone, or any school zone across the state. Installation in work zones would be left to the discretion of INDOT. Individual school districts and police departments could also choose to install the cameras.
Drivers caught on video passing a stopped school bus, or speeding in a work or school zone – regardless of whether workers or children are present at the time – would be hit with an initial $300 fine. Drivers caught by the cameras again within five years would be hit with higher fines: $750 for a second offense, and $1,000 for any subsequent offenses.
The tickets would be civil penalties, and would not add points on a driver’s license.
But, Soliday says drivers would get the point quickly.
“The goal is deterrence, not to raise money,” he said. “There will be a very big sign that says: this is a camera monitored area. We’ll be very specific that there are consequences of speeding in this area.”
Soliday said he would agree to one concession under the proposal: that a ‘cushion’ of sorts be added, so drivers wouldn’t be ticketed for going one mile per hour over the speed limit.
“There are limits that we anticipate. If we need to put in writing, we will. I’d rather not say what those limits are publicly at this time,” he said.SUCCESS STORIES
In 2003, Illinois became the first state to allow speed cameras, though they weren’t widely installed and used there until 2006.
I-Team 8 spoke with Illinois State Police, the Illinois Department of Transportation, AAA Chicago and the Chicago Department of Transportation about the speed camera program.
All declined our repeated requests for interviews on it.
But, the state’s Department of Transportation says statistics prove the cameras work.
According to figures presented by IDOT, Illinois recorded 8,326 total crashes in 2006, the first year of widespread camera use in construction and school zones. 1,609 of those crashes involved injuries or deaths.
The figures have gone down every year since then, with the exception of 2008, which saw a slight increase.
While the camera programs alone are likely not the sole reason, the numbers represent a significant overall drop. By 2013, Illinois reported 3,313 total crashes, with just 722 involving injury or death.CAMERA CONCERNS
Opponents of the speed cameras say they’re not against the concept of additional safety measures. But, those like Barnet Fagel say the technology being used to achieve the additional safety is inherently flawed.
“I think it’s an oversimplification to say that cameras have made the roads safer,” said Fagel, a Chicago-based forensic video expert, who works as an advocate for the National Motorists Association. “Where’s the due process? Who’s the person who’s going to testify in court against you, the camera?”
Fagel, who calls himself the ‘red light doctor,’ has argued against hundreds of speed camera tickets in Illinois courts. In many of the cases he’s been hired on, the cameras got it wrong, he told I-Team 8.
“They’re using radar to determine the speed and photography to determine the car. The state would tell you they can tell which is which. But, it doesn’t always work out that simply. Even the finest cameras are subject to error; cosine angle factor error and operator error. I’ve had one (case) where a car was on the back of a tow truck being towed, and the driver was exceeding the speed limit. And, the owner of the towed vehicle got the ticket because that’s the license plate that was most readily seen,” he said.
Among Fagel’s concerns about HB 1404 is a provision that Indiana’s speed cameras would not be monitored by a police officer in real time. In Illinois, an officer watches the video while out on the road and determines whether a ticket should be issued, and if so, to which driver.
HB 1404 only mandates that an officer review the video prior to signing a ticket.
“They’re giving you a real ticket, but they don’t have a real witness. And, you can’t argue against the camera, because the camera can’t talk,” he said.
Fagel is also worried that Indiana’s proposed cameras would not be required to photograph the front of a vehicle. That could mean an officer would have no way to tell who’s driving it. Under the proposed bill, tickets would be issued to a vehicle’s registered owner, not the driver.
Fagel claims that violates a car owners rights.
“That’s not a step toward safety, it’s a run at safety. They should not force the issue. There should be an officer there to assign the right car, the right driver, with the ticket. I don’t like helping people who deserve the ticket. But, I will work with people as a forensic video expert when the camera is showing signs of defective or bad equipment. We want responsible traffic laws and enforcement. Responsible, not profitable. That’s the problem. When profit gets in there, safety evaporates.”MONEY MAKER
Some states have faced criticism that their speed camera programs were primarily designed to make money for state coffers.
Rep. Soliday says his bill was specifically written to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
“We’re not raising money with this to pave roads. We’re not using it to pay for police departments. It’s going to a fairly neutral source called trauma centers,” he said.
Under the proposed bill, funding from citations issued in work zones would be directed through the state’s brain and spinal cord research fund to pay for upgrades to trauma centers offering long term treatment options across the state. Money from speed cameras placed in school zones and on school buses would be split 50-50 between the trauma centers and school corporation that installed the camera.
“Chicago has had a lot of debate. And, the vendors there have been of various qualities. We’ve tried to address a lot of those issues. We brought a similar bill a couple of years ago. We got a lot of feedback, and we’ve tried to incorporate that into the bill,” Soliday told I-Team 8.
But, Fagel points to a provision inside HB 1404 that would allow third party camera vendors to collect up to 25 percent of every fine issued. He calls that an incentive for the vendors to issue as many tickets as possible.
“This is the camera company talking,” Fagel said. “That’s been tried in Florida, with (dedicated funneling of funding). It never lasts. Camera income is the crack cocaine of municipalities. Once they’re hooked, it’s very hard to get them off.”RED LIGHT CAMERAS
In some states, speed cameras have preceded the installation of so-called ‘red light cameras,’ placed at intersections to catch drivers disobeying traffic control signals.
More than 50 such cameras have been installed in Chicago during the last three years.
They have come with intense debate in other states.
The City of Baltimore was forced to pay drivers back last year because its cameras were programmed incorrectly. New Jersey recently abandoned its red light intersection camera program amid concerns of constitutionality.
But, courts have largely upheld the programs as valid in most states.
Still, while DeLaney said he was open to the idea of such cameras ‘down the road,’ Soliday said HB 1404 is not intended to open the door to the technology in Indiana anytime soon.
“Not while I’m chairman (of the House Transportation and Roads Committee),” he told I-Team 8 when asked if he saw the bill as a precursor to intersection cameras. “This is not about stoplight cameras. This about two areas we’re having problems with in our state. The whole purpose of a legislature is open discussion, and I think it’s time we talked about these two risks.”
John Alsup, who lost his cousin Coty Joe Demoss to a work zone crash, thinks so too. And, to those worried about getting caught and fined, he has a simple message.
“If that’s the worst thing you have to worry about is a camera being out there so be it,” Alsup said. “I would rather be fined than speed and (take) somebody’s life.”NEXT STEPS
The House Roads and Transportation Committee took public testimony on the speed camera bill last week. Debate and vote on the measure is set for Wednesday morning.
If the measure passes there, it would move to the full House for consideration later this month.
A separate bill that only addresses school bus stop arms passed through a committee earlier this month. Senate Bill 398, filed by Senator Eric Bassler (R-Washington), would allow police officers to issue tickets if they have probable cause to believe a driver illegally passed a school bus. The tickets could be issued whether an officer observed the violation or not.