The traffic law is clear: Stop on red.
Technology used by many cities to enforce the standard is equally simple: Stop or the camera will catch you.
Last year, cities and counties using automatic cameras issued 260,000 citations to motorists who were captured on film running through red lights.
Altogether, communities collected more than $14 million in fines last year, according to records compiled by the state Department of Transportation.
Modern-day speed traps or tech-assisted justice? Six years after the first communities started installing cameras at intersections, the monitoring remains controversial.
Critics, including some ticketed drivers, say the cameras are unconstitutional and unfairly target commuters who make a daily crawl through traffic-clogged intersections.
A better method to reduce accidents is to extend the length of the yellow warning light, argues state Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), who has tried for years to get the cameras removed.
“They’ve put the burden of proof on the accused,” he said. “You have to prove you didn’t run it.”
Advocates, including several police leaders, produce data that show the cameras have either reduced the number of accidents or changed the type of accidents, typically producing more rear-enders that cause less serious injuries.
Over time, at the intersections where cameras were first installed, communities also have reported that drivers violate the light system less often once they realize they’re being watched.
In Snellville, for example, cameras were installed at three intersections in 2006. By the following year, crashes at its busiest juncture —- U.S. 78 at Ga. 84 —- had fallen from 80 to 36. At the intersection of Ga. 124 at Ronald Reagan Parkway, crashes dropped from 112 to 48, according to city data.
Nothing else changed, such as traffic counts, Snellville Police Chief Roy Whitehead said. “They’ve worked,” he said. “They’ve done everything we wanted them to.”
What they haven’t done as of this year is produce enough revenue to make them profitable in some communities.
As of January, under a new state law, Georgia communities using the cameras were supposed to add an extra second of yellow light. The national standard requires a three- to six-second warning, depending on approaching speeds.
Several communities in Gwinnett County, including Snellville, have suspended use of the cameras since January, saying the longer yellow has dramatically reduced the number of violations, and tickets, enough so that keeping the cameras running is cost-prohibitive.
In Lilburn, where three junctions have cameras, the city issued 1,468 citations in January 2008, said Bill Johnsa, city manager. This January, the number dropped to 313.
“They were installed for safety,” Johnsa said. “It would be ideal if we could just break even. At this point, we’re going to be in a deficit.”
Other communities with busy intersections say their cameras are still flashing enough to justify the ongoing maintenance costs.
In Marietta, where three intersections have cameras, local officials collected $1.5 million in 2008. After subtracting maintenance costs, the city still had nearly $1 million left over, according to city documents.
At its big-ticket intersection —- Windy Hill Road at Cobb Parkway —- cameras documented more than 19,000 violations. The number has dropped at that intersection over time, but it still ranks as one of the worst in metro Atlanta for red-light scofflaws, according to the state data.
This year, for the first time, communities using red light cameras were required to report data on their operations to state DOT officials or risk forfeiting the revenue collected from fines.
The legislation, sponsored by Loudermilk, was part of a broader attempt to curtail use of the cameras.
“The problem is, for many cities, it’s about the money,” he said.
Although cities have to pay ongoing maintenance costs, several intersections have returned proceeds for years. Any excess money returns to the community.
At a single intersection in Atlanta —- Freedom Parkway at Boulevard —- overhead cameras recorded more than 49,000 violations last year, its first year of operation.
Overall, Atlanta collected $2.4 million from eight intersections with cameras, according to the state data.
Harry Williamson, an Atlanta federal courthouse employee whose wife has received a ticket, is skeptical the technology changes behavior. Drivers stop for the cameras, he has observed, “after that, it’s business as usual. Everyone is like a bat out of hell.”
Atlanta city officials did not respond to several requests for an explanation about the volume of offenders at its big-ticket intersection. But in other communities with large numbers of violations, officials say volume usually decreases over time, which is one of the reasons they favor cameras.
The photo —- typically mailed home along with the citation —- makes it hard for someone to protest, Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner said.
“It’s something tangible they can look at,” he said. “With this, you can look at it and you can clearly see it’s your car, it’s your tag, and it’s you in the middle of the intersection. And the light is red.”
Clayton’s two intersections with cameras were among the 10 most active in metro Atlanta last year, according to the state data, released to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request.
At the county’s busiest crossroads —- Tara Boulevard at Upper Riverdale Road —- cameras captured nearly 15,000 violations.
The final call on whether a violation is worth a citation is made by a person —- usually a police officer —- who views the images captured on video or still cameras.
In Roswell, most of the violations aren’t close calls, said police Lt. James McGee, who oversees the program. It isn’t a case of the driver who gets stuck in traffic at the center of the intersection when the light changes.
“Most of the red light violations we’re catching, it’s blatant,” McGee said.
CHARLES W. JONES / Staff Metro Atlanta intersections with the most red light violations in 2008: 1. Atlanta, Freedom Parkway @ Boulevard, 49,322 violations 2. Marietta, Cobb Parkway @ Windy Hill Road, 19,101 violations 3. Roswell, Alpharetta Highway @ Holcomb Bridge Road, 18,596 violations 4. Clayton County, Tara Blvd. @ Upper Riverdale Road, 14,737 violations 5. Atlanta, Peachtree Road @ Lenox Road, 13,964 violations 6. Clayton County, Mt. Zion Blvd. @ Mt. Zion Road, 13,910 violations 7. Atlanta, Courtland Street @ Baker Street, 12,025 violations 8. Lilburn, U.S. 29 @ Ga. 378/Beaver Ruin Road/Arcado Road, 11,927 violations 9. Atlanta, North Ave. @ Spring Street, 9,940 violations 10. Snellville, Ga. 10/U.S. 78 @ Ga. 124, 8,819 violations Numbered map of metro Atlanta locates the above sites. Georgia communities that collected the most in fines last year: 1. Atlanta, $2.4 million from eight intersections 2. Clayton County, $1.6 million from two intersections 3. Marietta, $1.5 million from three intersections 4. Roswell, $1.1 million from two intersections 5. Savannah, $986,090 from three intersections 6. Lilburn, $935,000 from three intersections 7. Alpharetta, $756,875 from seven intersections 8. Duluth, $577,673 from three intersections 9. Snellville, $562,570 from three intersections 10. Athens/Clarke County, $462,905 from two intersections Source: Georgia Department of Transportation Article by Mary McDonald - Atlanta Journal Constitution Georgia Speeding Ticket Laws
Filed under: Red Lights Cameras in GA Counties & Cities