Tickets received from Columbia's red-light cameras will not add points to driver's licenses

Friday, August 21, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 4:02 p.m. CDT, Sunday, August 23, 2009

COLUMBIA — Drivers who receive tickets from Columbia's two red light cameras will not have points added to their state driver's licenses under the Missouri Department of Revenue's current interpretation of existing state law.

While drivers are assessed a two-point penalty for red light violations when caught by a police officer,  the Missouri Department of Revenue is unable to assess points for camera-related tickets. A driver who acquires 8 points over an 18-month period faces a suspension of  30 to 90 months, and 12 points in a year results in a license revocation of a year.

How it works

Here's how the new red light cameras work from snapshot to ticket, according to Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine:

  • As a motorist crosses into an intersection during a red light, cameras are activated and four pictures are taken including one of the driver's face. A video of the incident is also taken.
  • These pictures, along with corresponding video evidence, are sent to Gasto USA for first review.
  • Gatso forwards recommended violations to the Columbia Police Department where they are reviewed and either accepted or rejected based on the evidence.
  • Gasto mails out written citations containing instructions on where pictures and video of the violation can be found online.

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"Because of the way the law is written right now, we don't have the authority to cite as violations" tickets resulting from cameras, said Ted Farnen of the Missouri Department of Revenue.

Columbia Municipal Court is required by law to report all traffic violations to the Department of Revenue,  court clerk Shara Meyer said.

Putting those issued tickets  from cameras under the state's point system needs to be "addressed by legislation,"  Farnen said.

"There have been attempts in the legislature during the past few years to make state law more clear on the issue of red-light cameras," Farnen wrote in an e-mail, adding that friction between legislators who would like to ban cameras and those who want to specifically spell out a point system for violations have led to a deadlock on the issue.

The department's interpretation, however, could eventually change, Farnen said.  Camera systems such as Columbia's that capture the driver's face as well as license plate make it easier to identify the driver, but Farnen was unsure at this time "what the burden of proof a city such as Columbia would have to show the department."

Violations photographed from the two red light cameras installed in Columbia only yield a warning letter to the driver until Sept. 3. After that date, red light violations from the cameras will result in tickets and a $120 fine, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said.

Each ticket will contain four pictures of the offending vehicle passing through the red light. One picture will be of the vehicle's license plate and another will show the driver behind the wheel. The tickets will also contain a  Web site address and personal password where cited drivers will be allowed to view a 15-second video clip of the offense. Motorists who believe they received a ticket in error may still contest the ticket in court.

The city is also planning an event for Sept. 4 to kick off the beginning of ticketing, St. Romaine said. The event, which will be held near the red light camera at the corner of Providence Road and Broadway, will feature a speech by Mayor Darwin Hindman. Other speakers could include representatives of the Missouri Department of Transportation and a representative from Gatso USA, the company in charge of installing the cameras and mining data from them.

The event will be part the city's awareness campaign, which also includes radio and television advertisements that are costing the city $5,000, St. Romaine said.

The other red light camera in operation in Columbia is located at the intersection of Stadium Boulevard and Worley Street. The location of another 14 cameras will be decided by the end of the year, St. Romaine said.

The Police Department, Public Works, traffic engineers and the Department of Transportation are proposing locations to Gatso, which will make the final decision sometime in early to mid-September, St. Romaine said.

The city has yet to receive any data from Gatso as to how many warnings have been issued, St. Romaine said Wednesday, adding that he expects to receive it sometime before the warning period ends.

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Dion Wisniewski August 22, 2009 | 8:08 a.m.

30 to 90 months? I hope that is an error ;-p

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