AUGUSTA – Auburn city officials ventured to Augusta on Tuesday to testify before the Transportation Committee about their experiences using traffic safety cameras.

Auburn Mayor John Jenkins and Jason Moen, the deputy chief of the Auburn Police Department, both spoke in favor of a bill that would allow municipalities to install and use traffic safety cameras to issue tickets to violators.

Lewiston and Auburn participated in a federally funded pilot program using traffic cameras from December 2004 to June 2005.

“In six months of having this pilot program, we had approximately 4,651 recorded violations and that was just looking at five locations in our Twin Cities,” Jenkins said.

Current law prevents cities and towns from assessing fines to violators based on traffic cameras, so letters of warning were sent to violators in lieu of actual tickets. Jenkins said the city noticed a 28 percent reduction in violations as a result of the cameras.

“So does it work? Indeed it does,” Jenkins said.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Donald Pilon, D-Saco, would hold the owner of the car accountable for violations involving their car, even if they were not driving at the time.

This is similar to the Maine law about passing a stopped school bus, which also limits accountability to the car’s owner.

Public safety is the focus of the bill, Pilon said, not revenue.

“Approximately 200 people are killed every year in traffic accidents in Maine,” Pilon said. “Many of these crashes were the result of illegal speeding.”

Moen, the Auburn officer in charge of the pilot traffic camera program, said the cameras recorded 7,000 overall violations, but because of “strict quality control” fewer than 5,000 warning letters were sent out.

“Our overall objective is voluntary compliance (with the laws),” Moen said. “But these cameras can serve as an added tool in our tool box.”

Moen played video clips recorded during the pilot program for the committee to illustrate how the cameras worked.

Municipalities would be expected to initially pay for the camera systems and would recoup their investment from revenue generated by issuing tickets, according to the bill.

Several groups voiced opposition to the bill, including the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the Maine Custom Auto Association, which is based in Auburn.

Ray Simond, the association’s legislative director, said while his group supports efforts to increase intersection safety, he feels the bill does not allow for “the owner of the offending vehicle to be able to prove he did not commit the violation.”

Simond offered alternative suggestions to the committee for improved safety, such as eliminating right turns on red lights, increasing public education programs, or employing a camera system that captures photos of drivers, not just license plates.

Pilon, the bill’s sponsor, acknowledged the bill still needed “additional revision” and suggested the committee turn it into a resolve. This would allow legislators and officials to get together over the summer and “come out with a product that would be a collaborative effort,” he said.

“Everyone agrees there is a need for something like this, but we need more time,” Pilon said.

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