JEFFERSON CITY — Many Missouri cities could keep using automated red-light and speed cameras under their current ordinances as long as they adhere to certain state guidelines, under legislation endorsed Wednesday by the House.
Photo enforcement of traffic regulations has been the subject of legal battles, which have led some municipalities to temporarily stop using the cameras.
Under many city ordinances, drivers are fined after being caught speeding or running a red light but are not assessed penalty points against their license.
Those ordinances have faced court challenges, and an appeals court last year ruled that a suburban St. Louis city's camera rules were unenforceable because no points were assessed against drivers who ran red lights. The court said running a red light is a moving violation for which state law requires points to be assessed against the driver.
The House bill, however, would let communities with similar no-points ordinances continue operating traffic cameras in certain locations and under state rules.
The measure would prevent drivers statewide from accruing penalty points for violations caught by a red-light or speeding camera and would allow municipalities to fine drivers up to $135 for each ticket issued using a camera. This would create a way to penalize moving violations without assessing points, which courts have recently ruled is contrary to current state law.
"It is very cloudy in here, and we are trying to sweep away some of the fog," said sponsoring Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair.
Hinson added that he is opposed to red-light and speed cameras, but said the measure is necessary to provide some legal clarity after previous attempts to ban photo enforcement failed in the legislature.
Opponents said the bill could let dangerous drivers stay on the road longer if points do not accrue when a red-light camera catches someone speeding or running a red light. Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, said points would be assessed if those drivers were pulled over by police.
"We are going to use this system to circumvent the point system we already have," he said. "We are going to treat the same offense two different ways."
The bill would require cities using red-light cameras at intersections to post signs alerting drivers that an area is being monitored in that way. They would also have to conduct a public awareness campaign 30 days before turning on the cameras and to meet engineering protocols.
Speed cameras for roads not part of the state's highway system would be limited to school zones, work zones and areas where serious traffic accidents are more common. Signs would need to indicate the speed limit and warn of camera enforcement.
Cities would also need to get approval from state transportation officials before operating cameras.
American Traffic Solutions has installed and operated cameras for 27 customers in Missouri. Spokesman Charles Territo said the company is advising its customers to see if the legislation becomes law before making changes to camera programs.
The bill needs one more affirmative vote before moving to the Senate.
The Missouri Supreme Court could still weigh in on the issue. It declined to hear three cases involving red-light cameras last month, but two additional lawsuits are still pending before the court.