Local and area residents who fear getting a $100 ticket from a red light camera have a choice to make: Avoid the Belt Highway in St. Joseph or start making adjustments to your driving.

And if you think you have nothing to fear, here’s the surprise: Even drivers who are certain they obey all traffic laws must exercise new caution on the Belt. St. Joseph police think it is likely rear-end collisions will increase at intersections where red light cameras are being placed in use.

“Any time you’re trying to modify people’s behavior, there’s going to be a time frame where they’re getting used to it,” police Sgt. Richard Ketchem told the News-Press. “…Even with that, I’d rather have a low-speed, rear-end collision with minimal injuries, as opposed to an angle collision in the intersection where someone’s going to get hurt.”

The debate over whether red light cameras are a good thing was mostly uneventful in St. Joseph. The few vocal objections fell by the wayside in part because the city very clearly was deliberate in pursuing this idea. Approval for cameras was given in May 2011; the first tickets will be issued Feb. 17 after a 30-day warning period ends.

So far, just two intersections have been approved for cameras — Belt Highway and Frederick Boulevard, and Belt Highway and Cook Road. Authorities say they were chosen because they are high-accident intersections where it is anticipated cameras will improve traffic safety.

We have followed closely the safeguards the police have designed into the system, including an officer reviewing the photo and video evidence in every instance a ticket is issued; the detailed information that will be provided to ticketed drivers, including photos of their car in the intersection; and the appeals process that will be provided.

We accept that these cameras, deployed in these limited instances, have the potential to add a level of needed enforcement at high-volume intersections that it is not possible to monitor 24 hours a day.

Further, we have come to accept the argument that traffic enforcement is not just difficult but often unsafe at Belt and Frederick. Enforcement through the use of red light cameras improves that situation.

The city has justified proceeding with the cameras. Continued support requires constant reevaluation of revenues they produce for the police department, their impact on accidents and their fairness to the driving public.

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