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Missouri high court red lights red light cams

A red-light camera is positioned at Chouteau Avenue and Grand Boulevard near St. Louis University's Doisy Research Center in 2015. 

Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

The streets of St. Louis are an unsafe, lawless mess, and the lack of adequate law enforcement means the problem is only going to get a lot worse unless the city does something to crack down. The city, with Board of Aldermen support, absolutely should proceed with whatever steps are necessary to reactivate its existing red light cameras and, if necessary, add more.

The epidemic of lawlessness around the city is putting lives in danger. It has become commonplace at busy intersections, even during rush hour, to see motorists blow through red lights with reckless abandon. This isn’t just the occasional driver who speeds up to beat a yellow light. We’re talking about wanton, blatant violations of traffic laws by people who know better.

Some will use an empty left-turn lane like it’s a passing lane, roaring past other cars at a red light and zipping through one intersection, only to repeat the exact same violation at the next light. They do it because they are fully aware the chances are minimal that an officer is anywhere close by to ticket them. They do it because they know that understaffed and overworked St. Louis cops have more important crimes to pursue than traffic violations.

But the consequences are deadly serious, with a 46% increase in roadway fatalities in the three years that followed the camera system’s deactivation in 2015. We’ve seen SUVs and muscle cars blast through intersections crowded with pedestrians downtown or along Grand Boulevard in Tower Grove. We’ve seen school buses, perhaps running late on a morning route, treat red lights like obnoxious inconveniences to be ignored rather than obeyed. Postal trucks and Metro buses are guilty as well.

“Anybody who drives up and down Kingshighway or Grand or Gravois or Natural Bridge sees the speeding and red-light running,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said as she announced plans to solicit proposals for restoring the camera system. The system was deactivated in 2015 following a state Supreme Court ruling that imposed restrictions on their use.

If a pedestrian is seriously injured or killed, it’s too late for these selfish drivers to beg forgiveness and express heartfelt sorrow. Lives are altered permanently because people don’t want to be bothered to obey the law.

Pedestrians who see the “walk” signal at crossings can no longer trust that they have the right-of-way, as the law specifies. The supposed pedestrian right of way now means: Stop. Look both ways. Proceed with extreme caution. Good luck, we hope you make it to the other side.

A crackdown is long overdue. No one should confuse this as a bid by the city to generate more revenue by issuing tickets and collective fines. The city has an urgent need to restore order to the streets — and save lives.