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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, March 1, 2002

Traffic cams credited with decline in accidents

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

Traffic accidents declined significantly in areas where the state deployed its traffic photo enforcement vans in January, the state Transportation Director Brian Minaai said yesterday.

Major accidents dropped 14.7 percent and minor crashes dropped 10.2 percent in January compared with January 2001 in police districts where the vans were first used, Transportation Director Brian Minaai said. The total number of crashes went from 720 in January 2001 to 636 in January 2002.

"There is very strong evidence that the photo enforcement program is working," he said. "The slower speeds have definitely contributed to this decline in crashes."

Minaai based the announcement on crash reports from Honolulu Police Districts 1 and 5, which include the Pali, Likelike, Nimitz and Kalaniana'ole highways and H-1 and Moanalua freeways where the vans were first used.

It was not clear, though, how many of the accidents involved speeding and how many actually occurred on the camera-monitored highways. Critics of the program have noted fatal accidents have increased in Hawai'i so far this year compared with 2001, and Transportation officials responded that one month is too short of time to judge the effectiveness of such a program.

"Just because accidents are down for 30 days doesn't prove anything or automatically make it a good program," said Rep. Charles Djou, R-47th (Kahalu'u, Kane'ohe), an outspoken critic of the traffic cameras. "It could have been the rain or anything else. It's just more evidence that DOT talks out of both sides of the mouth."

Minaai's announcement yesterday came days after an official report showed the private contractor was paid more than $46,000 in January for tickets never issued, even though the original contract called for the company to be compensated only when tickets resulted in a paid fine.

Minaai said the state's contract with ACS, State and Local Solutions had to be changed after the state judiciary required the company to match a driver's license number with the identity of a car's registered owner before issuing a citation.

In nearly 20 percent of the cases in January, ACS was unable to come up with the matching information and couldn't issue a ticket.

Because the company was asked to do work beyond the scope of the original contract, the state agreed to pay it for the work at a reduced rate of $22.31 per ticket. The original contract contract calls for the company to be paid $29.75 for each paid ticket.

"It was something we had to do out of fairness to the company," Minaai said. "It was an unforeseen circumstance that came up in the initial phase of the program."

Minaai said because camera citations are treated as moving violations, Judiciary needed a driver's license number so they could record the violation on an individual's traffic abstract.

However, many drivers do not use exactly the same name on their driver's license when they register their vehicles, Minaai said. Among the discrepancies discovered when ACS officials tried to match the two lists were different first or middle names, or automobiles registered in a maiden name or multiple names, he said.

All of the additional expense will be covered by expected revenue from the camera citations. Minaai said the problem could be fixed in the future if the Legislature reclassifies the camera citations as nonmoving violations, thus keeping them off traffic abstracts.

The lack of matching names was just one of many reasons that officials did not issue citations to all those who were caught speeding in January, according to a monthly report compiled by ACS for the state.

The report shows that during the first month of operation, the cameras recorded 10,339 speeding "events," but issued only 3,590 tickets, or 34.7 percent.

Among the other reasons listed for not issuing a citation to those over the limit were no license plate in the picture (12.3 percent), lack of clarity in the plate picture (10.3 percent), rejection by Department of Transportation supervisors (8 percent), a new license plate not yet listed on state records (2.3 percent), no license plates (2.2 percent) and operator error (2.2 percent).

Meanwhile, officials have announced that the city of Denver has suspended its traffic photo enforcement program and dismissed all pending tickets issued under the system.

"We have decided that the appropriate thing to do is to void these tickets," city attorney Jim Thomas said Wednesday. "We want to review the program to make sure that we have an appropriate program in operation."

A district court judge ruled Jan. 28 that Denver's program illegally gave police powers to a private contractor, which prepared and sent the summonses.

Thomas said the city would restart the multimillion-dollar program as soon as possible because it provides "significant public safety benefits."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.