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Fate of Cameras on the Line

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has done extensive studies on red-light cameras, including studies linked to the timing of the lights. "Even where the lights are correctly timed, people still run red lights," said Senior Vice President Stephen Oesch. "That's why we feel it's important to use automated cameras to detect red-light violations."

Mike Stollenwerk, chairman of the Fairfax County Privacy Council -- which is not affiliated with the government -- has been urging people to contact members of the House committee and ask them to oppose any bill that would extend the cameras' presence. He cited one study showing that the strobe flash of the cameras can cause drivers to stop in an intersection and create accidents.

A photo taken by a red-light camera captures an accident at Duke and Walker streets in Alexandria. A law allowing the cameras expires in July. (Alexandria Police Department)

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Virginia's cameras launch communities on "a slippery slope" of privacy invasions, Stollenwerk said. "What's next? We become like D.C., with meters along the road to collect money?" he asked, referring to the District's anti-speeding cameras, "Or we leave the cameras on and track people's movements?"

In Virginia, AAA surveys found that 75 percent of drivers in central Virginia and 72 percent of Northern Virginia approve of the cameras, spokesman John Townsend said.

"They feel that red-light cameras make the road safer," he said.

"But some things they don't like," Townsend said. "They think they're not being installed for public safety uses but to raise money. They support it, but there's a mistrust of the cameras."

Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax), a member of the House committee, said the issue breaks down as "urban versus not urban."

"Some of the people in rural areas just don't particularly like government having a role in this whole arena," he said. "They have apprehensions about whether or not local governments can handle this kind of authority.

"I would hope the legislature would take its nanny hat off and let the jurisdictions do what's in their best interest," he said.

Del. Beverly J. Sherwood (R-Frederick), chairwoman of the committee, did not return calls, and a spokesman for vice chairman Del. Glenn M. Weatherholtz (R-Rockingham) said he was not available.

Del. Marian Van Landingham (D-Alexandria) said she favored the cameras and thought they worked well in her city.

But the struggle to extend the cameras' use has gone on for years, she said, "and there simply have not been the votes because of the way the committee has been packed."

Four of the 22 members are from Northern Virginia.

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