‘Doesn’t enhance public safety’: Bill allows speed cameras to ticket responding police

Mar 8, 2024, 3:10 PM | Updated: 6:51 pm

Image: Officers from the Mount Vernon Police Department respond to a crime scene. (Photo courtesy o...

Officers from the Mount Vernon Police Department respond to a crime scene. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

A provision in a controversial bill authorizing the use of automated speed cameras subjects police cars to speeding tickets, even if they are responding to an emergency.

ESHB 2384 is heading to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for approval after the House passed the democratically sponsored bill in a 55-38 party-line vote early Wednesday. (A PDF of the bill that passed can be viewed here.)

The original bill, which the House passed on Feb. 12, gave authority to cities and counties to deploy automated safety cameras, primarily in work zones.

The cameras could be deployed in projects for at least 30 days, and infractions may only be issued in the zones when workers are present.

After passing the House, it went to the Senate Transportation Committee chaired by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, who rewrote the legislation and added several other uses, leading critics to say it’s more about revenue than traffic safety.

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Liias: Expansion meant to save people

Liias said the expansion is about reducing speed and saving lives.

“Our latest estimate for 2023 is it’ll be over 800 people killed on our transportation systems, an astounding number that we have to go back to the (1980s) to find a similar equivalent,” he said before the bill was passed out of the Senate along party lines.

The original version of Liias’ rewrite said speeding infractions could be issued to any type of law enforcement vehicle, fire engine or ambulance. Fire engines and ambulances were removed from the final rewrite, but law enforcement vehicles responding with lights and sirens can still be ticketed.

“Law enforcement vehicles going through these areas, responding to a call – it says they are not exempted and are subject to the fine, that makes no sense to me,” House Transportation Committee Vice Chair Representative Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, said.

“Sen. Liias has assured me that since the police are the ones reviewing the cameras, they will be able to determine if they will give themselves a ticket or not,” Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, said rhetorically before the Senate vote.

The additional provisions stated that the traffic safety cameras mounted on Metro buses in King County can be used to issue infractions for stopping, standing or parking in bus zones.

The provision is limited to counties with populations over 1.5 million people. The only county that fits that description in the state is King County.

Any city with a bus rapid transit corridor may use automated safety cameras to detect restricted lane violators.

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Barkis believes the bill is too broad and will generate infractions for people who are simply stuck in traffic.

“Anyone who has driven in downtown Seattle knows what a mess it is with its design of transit lanes, single lanes and bike lanes,” Barkis said. “You’re just trying to navigate from Point A to Point B and if you get stuck blocking something, you’re now going to get a ticket.”

More on the bill that allows speed cameras to ticket responding police

Any city or county may use automated cameras to detect ferry queue violators subject to consultation with the Washington Department of Transportation.

In cities with a population of more than 500,000 – like Seattle – cameras being used to detect restricted lane violations are made permanent.

The bill mandates cities and counties to post traffic safety camera restrictions and related policies on their websites and ensure that signage for camera locations is readily visible to drivers.

The fine amount cannot exceed $145 — double if the ticket is in a school zone — but those on government assistance can get a financial break.

Persons who receive a violation and are recipients of public assistance program benefits must be granted, upon request, a reduced penalty amount of 50%.

All revenue generated by each authorized camera use remains with the local government but must be used for camera program administration and traffic safety activities related to road repair.

In cities with populations of 10,000 or more, the money must also go to safety improvements in low-income neighborhoods with above-average rates of injury crashes.

“We put in new requirements regarding equity, where are the cameras being located and where the proceeds being invested so that traffic safety improves in the neighborhoods where the cameras are being used,” Liias said.

The expansion of who can authorize tickets

Currently, a sworn police officer must issue an automated safety camera violation after reviewing the video.

The bill expands that to “include any trained and authorized civilian employee” at the discretion of the local police department.

Liias says the expansion of who can authorize the ticket reflects the shortage of officers in large cities like Seattle, Spokane, and Bellevue.

“They don’t have enough law enforcement officers to fulfill patrols and sit at a computer and review these infractions,” Liias said.

Beginning four years after any new traffic safety camera is initially placed and in use, 25% of net revenue in excess of camera administration and infraction processing costs must be deposited into the state-run Cooper Jones Active Transportation Safety Account, with exceptions.

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An amendment to require voters to approve the use of automated safety cameras was voted down in the House.

Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Airway Heights, a 22-year police veteran, said the bill is nothing but a moneymaker for cities and counties.

“I dang well know the difference between something that enhances public safety and something that creates a revenue stream, this doesn’t enhance public safety,” Holy said.

Editors’ note: This story originally was published on March 7, 2024. It has been updated and republished multiple times since then.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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‘Doesn’t enhance public safety’: Bill allows speed cameras to ticket responding police