published Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

City defends traffic cameras

Top Chattanooga officials on Monday gave area legislators a tour of their traffic-camera enforcement program and offered it up as a possible statewide model for lawmakers suspicious such programs are more about money than they are about safety.

Mayor Ron Littlefield touted the city’s use of revenue from its red light and speeding cameras to help fund drivers education programs for young drivers.

“There will be people alive in the future because of that measure,” the mayor said.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, told local officials that the General Assembly is “going to pass something” to curb abuses. He said in a later interview that lawmakers may look at some aspects of Chattanooga’s program as a model.

“It could be,” Rep. Harmon said. “I don’t know what the committee is going to come out with — but we’re going to have to come out with something that’s (a) statewide regulation because everybody’s going crazy with these things.”

Police Chief Freeman Cooper urged lawmakers not to gut what in his view is primarily a safety program that he said has helped lower fatalities from 37 in 2006 to 21 in 2009.

“What we don’t want to see happen, chairman, is that it’s so restrictive that we can’t do what’s right for our citizens,” he said “I know the abuse is a possibility there, just like anything else.”

Lawmakers begin their annual legislative session later this month.

Earlier, Mr. Littlefield, City Council members, Chief Cooper, city traffic engineer John Van Winkle and other officials gave lawmakers a bus tour of some of the city’s traffic camera installations. Among them were cameras along the “S” curves on Hixson Pike, which officials said have dramatically cut accidents.

  • photo
    Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Cameras peer out from the side of one of the vans the Chattanooga Police Department uses to catch speeders during a guided tour of the photo-enforcement system Monday. Police gave a presentation on the photo-enforcement system to elected officials, including City Council members, the mayor and state representatives.

Officials also saw red light cameras being used at the intersection of state Highway 153 and Hamill Road as well as a mobile unit working a site along Amnicola Highway.

Later, they visited police headquarters where they were given a lengthy presentation on the city’s program. Chief Cooper told them the program is a “voluntary program” in that motorists have a choice on whether they will violate traffic laws.

Mr. Van Winkle said the city puts its red light cameras at six intersections identified by statistics as “hot spots” for serious accidents. The red light cameras have had an effect in lowering crashes, he said.

But he noted the most dramatic impact has been with the speed cameras, citing the “S” curves along Hixson Pike. He said the deadly stretch of road had 101 accidents in 2001 — six years before the cameras went up.

“Last year we only had four crashes,” he said.

Lawmakers said they don’t doubt the impact on the “S” curves. But in a one-on-one conversation with City Council Chairman Jack Benson, Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, pointed out other problems, noting some cities don’t ticket motorists for failing to come to a complete stop when making a right turn on red at a traffic light. But the city of Red Bank does, he said.

“People are so paranoid now they won’t turn right on red,” he said, later noting, “there’s no consistency.”

In response to similar questions raised by Rep. Harmon, Chief Cooper said Chattanooga does not issue tickets on motorists making turns on red. Speeding citations are issued only when motorists go 10 mph above the speed limit, he said.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said while the presentation was a good one, he isn’t getting complaints from constituents about “too few speeding tickets being passed out. Quite frankly. I’ve had some call and say they’re uncomfortable with government putting cameras up and watching them.”

Mr. Benson told lawmakers he had “not heard anybody really give any justifiable reason why we shouldn’t use the speeding cameras. In fact, everything that’s been said about that, it’s not an arbitrary” decision.

He said if lawmakers have issues about laws being enforced, “maybe the laws need to be changed. I personally want laws enforced or changed if the law’s not enforceable or subjective and unfair.”

He noted that in an increasingly populated society, “we’re going to have cameras.”

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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PhotoRadarScam said...

I hope the officials saw what a joke of law enforcement it is, and saw the scam for what it is. I hope they do their research and talk to honest police officials from places like Pinal County, Arizona where the Sheriff removed speed cameras after accidents DOUBLED and that they see how desperate police officials can be like the LAPD who disguised and tried to hide data about LA's red light cams which resulted in an INCREASE in accidents. I hope they question why traffic engineers weren't given the opportunity to assess each location and make recommendations on how to improve safety at each location - how local officials thought that they were qualified to determine that the cause was lack of enforcement.

Notice how they cherry-picked data: "helped lower fatalities from 37 in 2006 to 21 in 2009." Let's see the numbers for every year! And they like to say that even though traffic may slow down for a 1/2 mile radius in a few select locations that cameras are the reason... Of course it's not the poor economy or unemployment or gas prices that is causing LESS TRAFFIC.

I hope they see what a joke it is to fine the OWNER of a car and not the DRIVER. And further, to fine them WEEKS LATER instead of immediately. And how easy it is to avoid photo tickets by using plate covers, towing trailers, using temporary plates, trailer hitches, etc. What a joke.

I won't even get into the shameful legal aspects of automated ticketing, or the abysmal accuracy rate of the equipment (which the vendors won't publish), or the lack of a regular audit or maintenance program by a state or local government entity to ensure honesty and calibration.

Cops not cameras! Take them down!

January 5, 2010 at 1:27 a.m.
sunnydelight said...

I just read a story about the State of Arizona and the citizens opposing the traffic cameras. The story says , there is no way to prove that you received the ticket threrfore, it must be hand delivered within a three month time frame or it becomes invalid and unenforcable.Is that the case in Tennessee / Red Bank / Chattanooga ? It appears the citizens of Arizona are winning this one by refusing to pay. I personally have never received one of these tickets but have wittnessed them impeding the flow of traffic during rush hour.

January 5, 2010 at 7:47 a.m.

Hey law breakers, like the ones complaining above, you might also want to stay away from retail stores, warehousing, manufacturing, airports, train stations, toll booths, etc. etc. etc. Your unlawful misdeeds are being watched everywhere you go.

I'm glad you no longer drive unlawful in Red Bank.

January 5, 2010 at 8:37 a.m.
Musicman375 said...

I cannot say if this is true for all traffic cameras in town, but Red Bank sends you an invoice (a civil document on 8 1/2 X 11 letterhead) for a criminal offense. Since a human being didn't see you break whatever law is in question, they cannot legally present you with a criminal citation for the event. As for the vans, you are charged criminally since a person is obviously in the van to witness the crime.

One thing the sceptics should be able to find some comfort in is that the cameras do not discriminate. A friend of mine was cited while in his police cruiser. haha

January 5, 2010 at 9:03 a.m.
KWVeteran said...

I used to oppose the cameras; however, I am now in favor of them. People are becoming much worse over running red lights in addition to excessive speeding. Cell phone usage can be seen every day to be causing hazards. Before you get enraged at my comments, give some thought to what I have said.

January 5, 2010 at 9:11 a.m.
Ex_Cop said...

I've got an idea. Let's replace all of the traffic officers with cameras. No benefits to pay, no sick days and no pay checks. Then the drunks and mobile meth labs won't have to worry about being stopped. As for statistics; figures don't lie, but liars figure.

January 5, 2010 at 9:13 a.m.
enufisenuf said...

Can the cameras. The dummies in power who want them will eventually become misused for purposes other than the alleged traffic enforcement. The heads of any community who want these, will feed the sheple only the info they want them to know and will NEVER give partial truth much less the whole truth, they are politicians afterall.

January 5, 2010 at 9:17 a.m.
seyville said...

The only individuals who approve of these cameras are 1. Of course the makers of the camers. 2. The cities, counties, parishes salivating at the mouth in anticipation of the windfall they're expecting such cameras to bring in. 3. And last, but not least, let us not forget the stockholders of Lazercraft.

In San Diego several years ago, before these cameras made their way to the south, citizens banned together and brought about a Class Action lawsuit. When the cameras stop bringing in the expected revenue, some town officials got the grand idea to start rigging the traffic lights.

January 5, 2010 at 10:08 a.m.
seyville said...

bookieturnersghost, Yes! Retail stores, airports and all the rest mentioned do have cameras, but they're not used to issue ticket fines and generate revenue. Also, this Robin Hood mentality(rob the poor for a good cause), that the monies collected are going for a good cause "driver's ed", is a bunch of hogwash too.

January 5, 2010 at 10:16 a.m.
frumpster65 said...

OK I can see both sides of the camera issue. I think the ones on the S curves make sense. I have personally witnessed people trying to race through there in past years. However I dont believe we need cameras at a bunch of intersections downtown..i think there is about 13 now. I also think it is entrapment at the Brainerd Tunnels...

January 5, 2010 at 12:47 p.m.
sunnydelight said...

Bookieturnersghost. The name says a lot. I knew him and knew him well. Thats another story. You probably don't want to hear it tho. If you can read and comprehend . Go back and read my comment. I have never had one of these tickets , period. You only read what you wish others say not what they write. Typical of your namesake.

January 5, 2010 at 1:17 p.m.
bsto said...

Remember that the officers in Chattanooga were allowed to take their vehicles home instead of leaving them at the precinct. They paid for that by using the money generated by the cameras.

http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/docs/2008/tn-rlcpolicy.pdf

Read the document above from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. Let the debate be over it is about money and not safety. If it was about safety then it would not generate any money for the government, rather it would be a service to its citizens.

January 5, 2010 at 1:34 p.m.
seyville said...

quote from your link bsto, "A single officer typically reviews the film footage before citations are sent."

So one officer gets to possibly tamper with and decide who does or doesn't receive a citation? This means, none of his family members, friends, local officials, and fellow officers will receive one of those traffic citations?

I agree, it's a rip off anyway you look at it.

January 5, 2010 at 2:13 p.m.
ucjb said...

The process by which the citations are issued are unconstitutional because it denies due process. The owner of the vehicle receives the citation whether they were driving or not. If the owner denies they were driving, then the owner must tell the court who was driving. The burden of proof lies with the court NOT the owner. If the courts cannot prove who the driver was, then they have NO case. If safety is the issue why doesn't running a red light count as points on the driver's record? Shouldn't habitual red light runners have their license pull? It is the state and local government's duty to fix unsafe roads NOT to profit from them. If the "S" curves are dangerous then get a freakin bulldozer and straighten them out! If we don't stop these cameras now, then every one-horse town in this state will have one every mile and there's no law to stop them. Please join our facebook group google "kill tn traffic cameras"

January 5, 2010 at 2:41 p.m.
pgoldberg said...

With all of these pictures, how many cameras have caught accidents occurring because of redlight running? There's the case. Either we have evidence that redlight running is in itself dangerous and must be stopped, or we don't.

January 5, 2010 at 4:44 p.m.
ucjb said...

Join our facebook group google "kill Tennessee traffic cameras". Next week there will be a bill written to deal with these blood-sucking vampires. Tell'em take the cameras and shove'em.

January 8, 2010 at 7:27 p.m.
donthebiker said...

These roving speed cameras are nothing more than taxation without representation. If they call me for a donation to their "lightbulb" fund, they can forget it.

May 4, 2010 at 10:58 a.m.
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