Tenn. lawmakers learning from Ga. red light camera rules

Article from the Chatanooga Free Press, Published in the Rome Georgia News Tribune

NASHVILLE — A funny thing happened in Georgia after state lawmakers in 2008 required local governments to add an extra second of yellow light on traffic signals using cameras to catch drivers running red lights.

The number of camera-initiated tickets plummeted. So did enforcement revenues. As a result, some towns and cities, where officials previously had lauded photo enforcement’s impact on driver safety, decided to dump the camera program.

“It sort of exposed the myth of why those cameras are there,” observed Dalton, Ga., Mayor David Pennington, a photo-enforcement critic. “The reason that a lot of us were given was (it was) to prevent accidents.”

Other cities, including Lilburn, Ga., did not abandon their programs. It is unclear how many cities dropped their programs.

Georgia’s experience is not being lost on Tennessee, where legislative critics want to put a halt to what they contend are money-grabbing photo-enforcement programs across the state.

“It (Georgia) disincentivized it by taking away a lot of money,” said red-light critic Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, who called Georgia’s law “an option” for Tennessee.

Rep. McCord wants local governments to have “exhausted any and every engineering possibility before we go to the revenue side. I think that (extending yellow-light timing) is one of the ways of doing that.”

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Tennessee House Transportation Committee holds yet another round of hearings on the use of red-light and speeding cameras.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit insurance industry-backed group that studies and promotes highway safety, 16 Tennessee cities now use photo enforcement cameras to catch red-light runners or speeders or both, including Chattanooga and Red Bank.

Much of lawmakers’ ire appears directed at the red-light cameras as opposed to cities’ use of the cameras to nab speeders. Chattanooga uses cameras to discourage speeding through the deadly “S” shaped curves on Hixson Pike and several other locations.

Chattanooga traffic engineer John Van Winkle said he hopes lawmakers will exercise caution when evaluating traffic cameras.

Mandating an extra second of yellow time would create a lot more seemingly endless caution times for motorists, said Mr. Van Winkle, who is expected to testify at this week’s hearing.

Drivers “would think … ‘This stays yellow a long time. I know I can beat it.’ So they’re more inclined to speed up to try to beat the signal,” he said.

While some cities in Georgia have reported dramatic declines in red-light citations since the new law took effect, Mr. Van Winkle said the real issue is what is happening with serious collisions.

“That’s the main goal, to make the streets safer,” Mr. Van Winkle said.

When Dalton’s first full year of red-light enforcement began in 2008, the Georgia city, using a private contractor, issued 6,906 red-light camera citations, according to figures provided by Dalton police. In February 2008 alone, 624 camera citations were issued.

In February 2009, after the new law took effect, photo-enforcement citations plunged. Just 125 of the citations were issued — almost an 80 percent drop from the previous February.

Similar results wreaked havoc on a number of other programs. Several cities announced they were suspending their programs because they no longer were breaking even.

Among them was Lilburn, Ga., which at one point depended on the program for 8 percent of the city’s budget. Lilburn City Manager Bill Johnsa said the number of citations dropped from about 1,500 in January 2008 to 313 this past February.

Mr. Johnsa said while Lilburn initially suspended the program, City Council members wanted to keep it “because the numbers have shown that it does make intersections safer.” The city renegotiated its contract with private contractor LaserCraft Inc. and since has resumed a scaled back program, he said.

Mr. Van Winkle in previous testimony before the state House Transportation Committee has emphasized the success of traffic cameras changing driver behavior along Hixson Pike’s “S” curves and other areas plagued by speeders.

City figures show the number of photo-enforcement citations on the “S” curves went from 1,878 when the program was implemented in June 2007 to just 223 this September.

But he has been more circumspect in his testimony about the impact of red-light cameras. During an interview last week, he said red-light cameras can have an impact, citing the first traffic light officials tested. It had a “very high percentage” of dangerous “T-bone” or right-angle collisions and left-turn collisions, he said.

The city used flash cameras to cover all four approaches. Drivers noticed and “the accident rate plummeted,” Mr. Van Winkle said. “We changed driver behavior.”

Both programs have proved lucrative for Chattanooga. Since Chattanooga began photo enforcement in mid-2007, the program has taken in $2.7 million in revenue and netted $1.5 million after expenses by Oct. 15, 2009. The bulk of the net revenue — $1.15 million — stemmed from its fixed and mobile automated speed enforcement.

Just this month, Chattanooga opened its first driver’s education program for teens. The pilot project’s first year $100,000 price tag is funded by the $50 fines that come from the city’s photo-enforced traffic lights and speed cameras. The teens will pay just $50, down from a usual private course’s costs of about $400.

Article by Andy Sher

Many Georgia Towns and Cities Scrapping Red Light Cameras

Because of its proximity to us and its population concentration, the state of Georgia is a good place to look at trends that will most likely make their way to North Carolina. Or not. Remember the brouhaha we went through a few years ago about red light cameras, the pole-mounted devices that snap a picture of your license plate if you are in the intersection after the light has changed to red? I think we can stop worrying about that trend ever reaching N.C. in large numbers, as Georgia cities are removing the cameras from their “safety” arsenal. In fact, traffic cameras of all kinds are under siege across the country.

Towns and cities all across Georgia are scrapping the programs. Atlanta suburbs Duluth, Lilburn, Norcross, Snellville and Suwanee all have put the program in park while they review the results, or have announced plans to take the cameras down altogether.

Unforeseen drawbacks
For one thing, rear-end collisions increase greatly when red light cameras are in use. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports a 49 percent increase (from 65 to 97) in rear-enders at traffic camera intersections in my hometown of Marietta from 2004-05, when the cameras were installed. The town of Duluth saw a 21 percent increase in accidents, from 75 to 91, between March 2004 and February 2005, as compared with March 2005 and February 2006. In that same time period, accidents in Lilburn increased from 37 to 46, or 24 percent.
Rumors went around that small towns were lowering the number of seconds the light stayed amber to nail more drivers, though none of them have admitted to doing so. Still, in response to citizen complaints, Georgia enacted a state law on Dec. 31, 2008, mandating the yellow phase of the lights last one second longer at every camera-enforced intersection in the state. In January 2008, red light cameras in Lilburn issued almost 1,500 tickets at three intersections. After adding the single second to the yellow light phase, January 2009 saw the number of camera-issued tickets dive to about 300, according to City Manager Bill Johnsa. Snellville’s trio of cameras nailed almost 3,000 drivers in December of 2005. This February saw that number fall to under 500.
Officials of these cities insist the focus was on safety, not revenue generation. But still, now that they are not making money — while presumably still making motorists safe — cities are taking them down.

Other electronic traffic controls in the Southeast are facing tough times, too. In Louisiana, the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Department recently cut ties with Redflex Traffic Systems, citing a series of incidents. Redflex employed a speed camera for the parish, a radar system that takes a picture of — and mails a ticket to — speeders. Back in April, the parish had to give refunds to 2,488 ticketed drivers because the company had set the van up in a place where the speed limit changed from 70 mph to 60.
Following several other incidents, including having the “speeder van” parked illegally on private property, the final straw came when Redflex parked the van on the property of the Carroll Baptist Church in Walker, La. Church officials had the van towed. In a statement, the sheriff’s office said, “It was brought to the attention of sheriff’s officials that improper comments were made to the towing company employees. … Due to a recent series of events regarding Redflex and its representatives, the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office is discontinuing its participation in the parish’s photo enforcement program commonly referred to as ‘the speeder van.’”
The Web site, photoenforced.com/nc.html shows the red light camera locations in the Tar Heel State. So far, they’re all down east, having not made it west of Gaston County. Let’s hope our local leaders take note of these issues with electronic public safety enforcement and do not open that messy can of worms.

Article by Dave Russell, CitizenTimes.com

Georgia Traffic Ticket Defense Lawyer

Georgia Senate Restricts, Maine Rejects Red Light Cameras

The Georgia state Senate yesterday voted in favor of a measure that adds significant restrictions to the use of red light cameras while a legislative panel in Maine ensured automated ticketing machines remained banned from that state’s roads.

Although Georgia Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville) would rather see the devices banned outright, his measure represents the next best thing in a state that has authorized their operation for several years. If adopted by the House and signed by the governor, cities with existing camera programs would have two years to show “demonstrable evidence that there is a genuine safety need” at each of the intersections where the devices are installed. Traffic engineering studies would also be performed at each location to determine whether alternatives to the cameras might improve safety. The state Department of Transportation serves as the final judge by issuing operational permits.

All new requests for camera installations in the state would face the same justifications in order to obtain a permit from the state. Loudermilk’s bill gives the department has the right to inspect and audit any photo enforcement program and can enforce compliance by revoking the permit to operate cameras if a city refuses to cooperate.

The bill also requires a second red light camera ticket notice to be sent by certified mail to ensure that the vehicle owner actually receives the notice before being judged guilty. Current law only requires one notice sent by regular mail.

In Maine, the state legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Transportation yesterday voted to kill a proposal by state Representative Donald Pilon (D-Saco) that would have allowed cameras to operate throughout the state. No committee member voted in favor of the proposal.

Article from TheNewspaper.com

Georgia Traffic Laws