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Lead feet at Buffalo stoplights will soon mean lighter wallets

   Sometime later this year, it could be costly trying to beat the yellow light before it turns red.

   Lawmakers this week are poised to approve letting several communities, including Buffalo, begin installing cameras at intersections to catch red light runners. It comes 15 years after New York City began such a program and a couple years after a Rochester lawmaker single-handedly stopped Buffalo and other cities from getting the cameras.

   For the city, it's about increasing safety at intersections; hundreds of people die each year in the United States at the hands of red light runners. So-called T-boning — front-to-side accidents — are especially lethal in red light running incidents.

   But it's also about money. The city will be able to charge $50 for every infraction. A year ago, the Brown administration estimated 1,800 drivers a day could be caught in the first year of the program. But that was if 100 cameras were used; the new measures in Albany permit cameras in up to 50 intersections at any one time.

   But is this, as critics say, Big Brother expanding again? Are cameras, which are increasingly popping up as surveillance tools, replacing cops on the beat? And how sympathetic will judges be to claims by drivers who insist the camera was wrong?

   And one thing is certain: expect some interesting conversations around the dinner table over who will take responsibility for driving the car when it went through a red light. Consider: the owner of the car — not necessarily the driver — is responsible for paying the ticket.

   Was that the father driving or the kid when it went through the light? The bill is silent on how families might resolve that one.

   — Tom Precious


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