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.

 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

Dalton Georgia Red Light Cameras Coming Down

Almost two years after it started, Dalton’s red light camera program came to an end on Monday.

The City Council voted 4-0 to cancel a contract with Norcross-based LaserCraft, which operates cameras at the intersections of Waugh Street and Thornton Avenue and Highway 41 and Shugart Road. Mayor David Pennington votes only in the event of a tie.

“We’ve gotten data from the police department but nothing that overwhelmingly proves that it truly helps public safety. Most of the citations were from rolling right-hand turns,” said council member Denise Wood.

The council approved the red light cameras in 2006, and the first cameras went up at Thornton and Waugh in June 2007.

“I was on the council when we voted for it, and what we voted for was a trial period. We’ve had that. The most damaging thing from my point of view is that the (Georgia Department of Transportation) will not service those intersections,” said council member Dick Lowrey.

Public works director Benny Dunn said GDOT requires local governments to assume liability for traffic signals on any state route they place traffic cameras on as well as any “connected” lights. In the case of the Highway 41-Shugart Road intersection, that also includes the I-75 interchange and Tibbs Road.

Dunn said it would cost about $12,000 to replace one of the controller boxes at those intersections. If one needed to be replaced while the cameras were there, the city would have been on the hook. After the cameras come down, GDOT would be responsible for replacing it.

Police Chief Jason Parker said the red light program has been a success.

“We’ve seen what I would describe as remarkable results in terms of accident reductions, especially at Shugart and 41,” he said.

Data provided by Parker shows accidents at that intersection rose from 54 in 2006 to 64 in 2007 but dropped to 44 in 2008. But at Waugh and Thornton, accidents declined before the cameras went in and stayed fairly flat since. There were 19 crashes in 2005, 10 in 2006, 11 in 2007 and 10 in 2008.

Parker said red light violations and traffic accidents have dropped across the city since the cameras went up, which he says is a “residual effect” of the program.

But Pennington noted that accidents have dropped nationwide, not just in Dalton.

“You’ve probably seen that we had the lowest number of highway deaths since 1961. Because of the economy, people are driving less. So it’s hard to compare accidents,” he said.

State law required cities to add an extra second to the amber lights at intersections with traffic cameras, and city officials said there was some evidence that move helped reduce traffic violations at those intersections. They said they will ask GDOT to let them keep that extra second at Shugart and 41, which is a state route.

Some Dalton residents said before the meeting that they didn’t have any strong feelings about the cameras.

“They say they reduce accidents. I don’t know. If they do I guess it’s a good thing,” said Joe Fernandez.

City officials said they stopped issuing citations from the cameras in the first week of March. They said they did not know how long it will take LaserCraft to remove the cameras.

The city paid $4,695 for each “approach” per month, with two approaches (the north and south) covered at the Thornton-Waugh intersection and all three covered at Shugart-Highway 41. The city did not pay once the issuing of citations stopped.

Dalton Daily Citizen

By Charles Oliver

Dalton Georgia Speeding Ticket?

Georgia Red Light Cameras In The Red?

The city of Dalton is currently losing money on red light cameras at the intersections of Waugh Street and Thornton Avenue and Shugart Road and Highway 41. City Council members say they will decide soon whether to keep those cameras.

“We are on a month-to-month lease now, and we should decide at the next council meeting or two whether to sign a new contract,” said Mayor David Pennington.

The cameras brought in $344,126 in revenue from fines in 2008 and ran up costs of $283,574, according to the city finance office. Those costs include rental and court costs, but they do not include the man hours that police officers spend reviewing video from the cameras before deciding to issue tickets.

But in January of this year, the cameras brought $24,500 in revenue and rang up $23,834 in expenses. In February, the city took in $11,760 in fines from tickets issued for violations caught by the cameras and had expenses of $23,475.

The city pays $4,695 for each “approach” per month, with two approaches (the north and south) covered at the Thornton-Waugh intersection and all three covered at Shugart-Highway 41.

Why has revenue fallen?

Well, citations are down. In January 2009, for instance, the city issued 203 tickets based on video from the cameras, down from 397 in January 2008. In February 2009, the city issued 125 tickets, down from 586 the previous year.

Cities across the state have seen citations and revenue drop from red light cameras since the first of the year. That’s because of a state law that took effect requiring them to add one second to the amber lights at any intersections with red light cameras.

But Dalton public works director Benny Dunn says that law shouldn’t have any effect in Dalton, since the city had already added one second to those intersections when it installed the cameras.

“We were already in compliance with the law,” he said.

So why are tickets down? No one has a firm answer.

“Maybe people just decided they’d rather stop than pay a fine,” said City Council member George Sadosuk.

Norcross, Suwanee, Snellville and other Georgia cities have stopped their red light camera programs since Jan. 1, citing big losses. Rome is reportedly losing $10,000 a month on its traffic camera program, and city officials are considering ending that program.

Some Dalton residents said Monday they wouldn’t mind seeing the cameras go.

“They say they cut down on accidents. I don’t know,” said Al Fernandez. “I haven’t been caught by them, but I know people who have.”

Dalton Daily Citizen

Article by Charles Dalton

Traffic or speeding ticket in Dalton Georgia?

Cameras Sought at Dicey Crossing in Jackson County Georgia

At any given time, three Jefferson police officers are patrolling the Jackson County city’s 26 square miles, so Chief Joe Wirthman is looking for electronic help to keep an eye on the most dangerous intersection in town.

Wirthman has proposed installing red-light cameras, now used in more than 120 Georgia cities, to catch drivers who disobey traffic signals at U.S. Highway 129’s interchange with Interstate 85.

The idea has drawn the ire of some Jefferson residents who say the chief is more concerned with raising money than improving driver safety.

“I don’t get why people are complaining,” Wirthman said. “If you plan on obeying the law, then you don’t have anything to worry about.”

The Jefferson City Council plans to vote at 7 tonight on whether to negotiate a contract with red-light camera installer LaserCraft and whether to pursue state Department of Transportation approval for the project.

The interchange features two of the most heavily traveled intersections in Jackson County and ranks among the most dangerous. In 2008, 69 wrecks have been recorded at the spot – most caused by people running red lights. During a brief study in October, cameras caught 46 drivers running red lights during one 10-hour period.

Although most agree the police department should do something to make the interchange safer, some citizens remain leery of the cameras.

“I don’t really agree with the cameras part of it,” said Brandon Kouba of Jefferson. “I feel it’s an invasion of privacy. Ideally, I’d like them to just put more cops out there. … If there are cops there, you know a cop is watching you. With a camera, you don’t know who’s watching.”

While several transportation studies show red-light cameras can lead to more rear-end wrecks, they do prevent drivers from running red lights, said Athens-Clarke police Maj. Mike Shockley.

The Athens-Clarke Police Department added red-light cameras at the intersection of Lexington, Gaines School and Cherokee roads in Southeastern Clarke County in 2005, and put up a second set at the Westside intersection of West Broad Street, Alps Road and Hawthorne Avenue at the beginning of 2007.

Since then, the number of wrecks at the Lexington-Gaines School-Cherokee intersection has dropped drastically, Shockley said.

When police install cameras at one intersection, drivers assume they’re everywhere, he said.

Athens has seen fewer red-light runners and fewer collisions across town, even though those two intersections are the only two equipped with enforcement cameras, Shockley said.

“We have seen a reduction in accidents, and we’ve seen a reduction in violators,” he said. “That’s just kind of common sense, because once you get a ticket in the mail, you’re less likely to run the light.”

Police don’t yet know how many tickets the camera at West Broad Street tallied this year, but they expect to see fewer citations and crashes when they audit the numbers in January, Shockley said.

Together the cameras at the two intersections were responsible for more than 14,000 citations during 2007. Athens-Clarke charges $70 for a camera ticket and doesn’t report the violation to the state Department of Drivers Services or to a driver’s insurance company.

About 90 percent of drivers send in a check to pay the fine, while others sign an affidavit swearing they weren’t driving when the car ran the light. Some ignore the ticket, and a judge issues a bench warrant for the person’s arrest.

Detractors say it’s those hassle-free $70 fines that are driving Wirthman to invest in the cameras.

That’s certainly part of it, Wirthman concedes.

Athens-Clarke’s cameras generated more than $1 million in revenue from 2005 through 2007. After paying for the cameras, their annual maintenance and a clerk to prepare the citations, the police department made nearly $570,000 during those three years.

That money went into buying new communications equipment for Athens’ patrol officers. Depending on how the local ordinance is written, a city or county can use the revenue to cover any government expense, Shockley said.

Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Monday, December 22, 2008, Article by Merritt Melancon

Speeding ticket in Jackson County Georgia?

Woman In Receipt of Red Light Ticket in GA Wasn’t There At The Time…

A Florida grandmother received a red light camera ticket in the mail from Atlanta Georgia, notifying her of a violation, caught on camera. The only problem with this ticket is that she hadn’t visited the state of GA for over 35 years, and the photo that was sent along with the ticket showed a black pontiac and Evelyn Singer owns a white Acura! The name, address and vehicle on the ticket were, however, correct.

How often this type of “mix-up” seems to occur isn’t easy to research, as many consumers probably do not bother to examine the photo carefully if the accompanying information regarding the vehicle and owner is correct. The quaity of the red light camera photos can sometime be “questionable”, to say the least.

Singer, aka, the alleged red light runner, wasn’t going to just put up and pay the fine. She sent a certified letter and called Atlanta Georgia Traffic court numerous times attempting to get through to someone, even after being put on hold and repeatedly disconnected.

FInally, she was told that this would be taken care of and she would not be held responsible for the red light violation fine in Atlanta. Lesson to be learned here is to always confirm the photo and information, including alleged location of the violation, don’t just shut up and pay up!

Traffic ticket in Georgia?

Georgia Governor Signs Red-Light Camera Restriction

A new law in Georgia is intended to make it tougher for local governments to install red-light enforcement cameras. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2009.

The cameras that are used in more than 20 cities and counties across the state snap pictures of red-light runners or speeders’ vehicle tags. Tickets are mailed to the vehicles’ owners, regardless of who was driving at the time.

Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill into law allowing cities and counties to continue to use automated cameras at intersections, but put new restrictions on them. The new law, previously HB77, requires local governments to get permits from the Georgia Department of Transportation to put up cameras.

Localities with existing programs have until January 2010 to obtain permits for use of the ticketing machines.

Cities will be required to provide the DOT with annual reports on the devices. Local governments also are prohibited from decreasing the duration of traffic lights’ amber time.

Supporters say the changes are intended to ensure the cameras are for safety and not for filling local coffers.

Motorists who are issued photo tickets can avoid fines by sending in forms certifying that they were not driving when their vehicle was captured on camera running a red light.

Story by Keith Goble, Land Line Magazine

Georgia Traffic Ticket Attorneys

Danger Brings 2nd Red Light Camera in Rome Georgia

Rome’s next red light cameras are expected to be installed at what appears to be the city’s most dangerous intersection, according to wreck figures compiled by the Rome News-Tribune.

Although a date still has not been set for the installation of red light cameras at Martha Berry Boulevard and Veterans Memorial Highway, the intersection had more wrecks than any other of the city’s most dangerous crossings from January 2007 through February 2008.

Kirk Milam, city public services manager, said Rome is still awaiting approval from the state Department of Transportation to install the cameras.

The city’s only existing red light camera is on Turner McCall Boulevard and Hicks Drive near Kmart. That intersection is the second most dangerous intersection with 66 wrecks over the study period.

March 17, the City Commission approved installation of the second set of red light cameras.

According to the Rome Police Department’s monthly traffic accident reports from January 2007 through February 2008, the Martha Berry intersection recorded 69 wrecks.

Any wreck within approximately 100 feet of the intersection is included in the city police department count.

Nearly 70 percent of the accidents reported at that particular intersection resulted from drivers following too closely and only four were due to a red light violation.

The existing cameras help step up traffic enforcement at areas during specific times without requiring police to dedicate personnel to the task, said Maj. Travis Goss, with the Rome Police Department.

“You couldn’t imagine the manpower we’d need to monitor the lights and catch all those people who run these lights over and over again,” Goss said.

Now the camera snaps a picture of the vehicle, and its owner will get a fine in the mail based on the license plate number.

In 2000, before the state allowed municipalities to install red light cameras, Goss and a fellow officer traveled to Perry for a red light camera demonstration.

“During that demonstration we learned the primary goal was to reduce accidents or injuries,” Goss said, “that the city of Rome did not put these cameras up for profit.”

Goss said he believes once drivers become accustomed to going the proper speed limit through busy intersections, then they slow down and the need to run a red light doesn’t exist.

“You can stop at a reasonable amount of time without slamming on your breaks … people just don’t drive the speed limit,” he said.

Goss added that although the number of crashes at an intersection with red light cameras may not decrease, the severity of the wrecks do.

He said they are seeing more minor wrecks where bumpers are scuffed up rather than passenger-side impacts or head-on collisions at Turner McCall Boulevard and Hicks Drive.

Red-light camera background/costs

The city began photographing red-light runners at the intersection of Hicks and Turner McCall on July 12, 2004.

It previously paid up front for the expensive pieces of technology and equipment at Hicks and Turner McCall, an estimated $150,000 for each camera.

The cameras were paid for by a grant Rome received from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Milam said the city would lease the new red light cameras at Martha Berry and the bypass.

According to the city’s contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, it will pay a fixed fee of $3,950 per month for each designated intersection approach at the loop intersection.

Unlike the cameras at Hicks and Turner McCall, which photograph only drivers running the light through Turner McCall, the new red light cameras will photograph drivers in every direction at Martha Berry and Veterans Memorial.

The fee, which is slightly higher than the $3,450 per month currently paid at the intersection of Hicks and Turner McCall, will include service and equipment costs.

When motorists are photographed running the red light, they each receive a $70 notice of violation.

Between 2005 and 2007, the city finance department has collected $557,635 through the red light fines.

Rome City Manager John Bennett said the city collected $33,780 in January and February this year. The revenue for March has not yet been calculated.

The costs of citations at the new intersection will remain the same.

After monthly expenses for maintenance and processing of the images are paid, the profit will still be used to pay for traffic safety improvement and traffic-related safety projects.

In a previous interview, Milam said the Sidewalk Improvement Program has funded things such as the construction project in front of the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce and Carnegie Building on Broad Street, in a West Rome residential area on Brookwood Avenue where the city provided connectivity for West Central Elementary School, and construction on Elm Street and Lyons Drive.

Prior to 2007, the fine for running the red lights was $84.

The $14 add-on fees were sent to the state between August 2004 and July 2005, until the state attorney general’s office ruled law did not authorize the extra charge.

Bennett said the city refunded approximately $42,000 to drivers who originally paid the additional $14 for the citation, although the state did not reimburse the city.

DANGEROUS INTERSECTIONS

The following is a list of the most dangerous intersections in the city of Rome. The wreck numbers are from January 2007 through February 2008:

Martha Berry Boulevard at Veterans Memorial Highway — 69

Turner McCall Boulevard at Hicks Drive/Riverbend — 66

Shorter Avenue at Redmond Road/Coosawattee — 65

Turner McCall Boulevard at Martha Berry/Second Avenue — 63

Redmond Circle at Garden Lakes Boulevard/Mathis Drive — 47

Shorter Avenue at Division Street — 25

Turner McCall Boulevard at Broad Street — 22

Second Avenue at Broad Street — 22

U.S. 411 at Callier Springs Road — 21

Ga. 53 at Veterans Memorial Highway — 21

Article by Lindsay Field, Rome News-Tribune Staff Reporter

GA Traffic Laws