Future Not So Bright For Georgia Red Light Cameras

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.

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

9 Responses

  1. I remember when traffic violations were very low. Of course it was a small town in Georgia where I lived and therefore less cars. I’ve always believed that well trained people were the best solutions to help control traffic. Traffic lights are generally a help but they never did and never will fully replace quality trained people.
    Red light cameras have never been a welcomed product for traffic control because of the financial punitive factor. I repeatedly hear from the law enforcement perspective that it’s not really about the money but safety. Looks like most of the citizens don’t believe it and nor do I. So why not leave the red light cameras in place, remove financial penalties and replace it with community service and traffic school.

  2. I love that Idea.
    To bad the people in control can’t see thing your way

  3. After reading this I have learned the most important thing regarding red light cameras is revenue.
    Safety is not an issue if the cameras don’t bring in enough money. For the ones that do its a cash cow.
    I’m against these camera and for this reason, local governments cant be trusted to do whats right for their community. More money encourages bigger government and more dependency.
    The government will never have enough money and it breeds corruption, and that my friends is a fact of life, and never changes,

    • I totally agree. I witnessed a traffic light in Marietta with a red light camera change almost instantly from green to yellow to red all in under 2 seconds. It is a blatant form of stealing and is no different than someone putting a gun to your head and demanding all the money you made that particular day.

      • This is another legal ways of the city making money off our mistake. They need to realized that people don’t tend to run redlights all the time.. I try to avoid a accident because some idiot on the other lane decides he need to turn the same way i was turning and swerve intobmy lane. Then I was already in the middle of the intersection while it was red….the camera is here to do both .save lives and rob us

  4. I feel that I am in a dictatorship being watched so much.

  5. Watch the Kennesaw police and watch the Emerson police
    like hawks.Watch the Kennesaw police especially on Friday
    and Saturday nights from Barrett Parkway to Acworth.
    The Kennesaw police are not here to protect and serve.They
    are here to serve the City of Kennesaw as tax gathers and only serve
    themselves by
    giving tickets out.What is happening is that they are told
    to make money to replace all the taxes that would be paid
    by homeowners who lost their houses. Well, Kennesaw Police
    Department if everyone leaves town and no one shops Kennesaw
    on Friday and Sat Nights then there will be no money for
    your police department. They need to back off some.

  6. One time in Cobb Co I didn’y move over one lane in a Cobb
    town and was fined 381.00. I had an Alabama plate on
    and was driving my parents car because mine was being
    fixed in Calhoun. I did not know this was the law and many
    people don’t. The next day drivers were doing the
    same thing I did and were not pulled over by the Kennesaw
    police. It looks like Kennesaw police have one rule for Georgia
    people and one for Alabama.I believe what happened was the
    policeman was pissed off and he was prejudice against
    Alabama people. That was total unprofessionalism.
    Do not move to Kennesaw under any conditions.

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