Bill to allow more speed cameras in Colorado heads to Polis’ desk

Transportation Road Safety
Al Behrman/AP Photo
Speed cameras are aimed at U.S. Route 127, in New Miami, Ohio, Feb. 25, 2014. Under new federal guidance issued Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, states can now tap billions of federal highway dollars for roadway safety programs such as automated traffic enforcement. They are being told that cameras that photograph speeding vehicles are an established way to help bring down rising traffic deaths.

A bill that would allow local governments greater control over where they could use automated speed cameras is on its way to Gov. Jared Polis. 

The legislation cleared its last hurdle in the Senate on Thursday afternoon. If signed, the bill could result in far more speed and red light cameras across the state — which supporters say will lead to lower traffic speeds and safer roads.

“Senate Bill 200 is a very important bill because it will save lives,” state Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat and prime sponsor, said on the House floor this week.

Research supports the notion that speed cameras slow traffic and improve safety. But currently, state law limits their use to just three areas: residential neighborhoods, within a construction zone and along a street that borders a park. 

The new bill allows state and local governments to use them in more places, as long as the government in question also posts signs warning drivers of their presence. It also lifts an existing requirement that a police officer be present when a speed camera is in use. 

The bill was backed by Bicycle Colorado, which has argued that more traffic enforcement, along with infrastructure changes, is necessary to reduce traffic deaths that have reached record levels

“This is one tool among many that can and should be used to combat speeding and save lives,” said Aishwarya Krishnamoorthy, spokesperson for Bicycle Colorado. “We’re really excited about it.”

The sponsors said they crafted the bill to avoid hurting low-income motorists. First-time, minor offenders of speed limits would only be issued a warning. The bill caps speeding fines at $40, though that can double for violations near schools. Signal violations would be limited to $75.

The bill also prevents a given government from “immobilizing” a vehicle if its owner doesn’t pay fines, and citations would not lead to points against a driver’s license

The House made a handful of amendments to this effect, too. One change bans a government from trying to collect debt unless the vehicle’s owner is personally served. Another amendment eliminated a provision that would’ve allowed governments to prevent an owner from registering their vehicle or transferring the title until citations were paid.

The bill attempts to “thread the needle,” of safety needs and civil liberties, state Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Greenwood Village, said on the House floor this week.

“It means that less law enforcement interaction with individuals, which we think is a better outcome for all,” Froelich said. 

Still, some Republicans worried more cameras would create a “surveillance state” and surmised that they could be used as a revenue generator for local governments.

“There's a perverse incentive to do these,” said state Rep. Ken DeGraaf, R-Colorado Springs.

The Senate sponsor, however, told CPR News in March that the low fine amounts were chosen to fight the perception that the cameras were merely money makers.

“This isn't about revenue, this is about safety,” said state Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster. 

Sponsors have also pointed out that the bill leaves it to local governments to decide whether or not they will use cameras to enforce traffic laws. Denver, for one, has said it supports the bill.

A spokesman for Polis said he and his team will review the bill.