Traffic camera fines could fund driver's ed

Traffic camera fines could fund driver's ed

September 8th, 2009 by Adam Crisp in News

Chattanooga's photo-enforced red-light and speed cameras are a thorn in many drivers' sides, but those popped by the $50 ticket can tell themselves they're making roads safer.

Or at least that's the word from city leaders, who plan to fund partial grants for teenage driver education with the nearly $1 million netted since the photo-camera fines were initiated in June 2007.

"Right now we just have a draft proposal, and it's making its way through the city processes, but we hope to have to a pilot program very soon," said city Traffic Engineer John Van Winkle.


* S curves on Hixson Pike

* Barton Avenue across from GPS

* South Crest Road just at the Georgia-Tennessee border


* M.L. King Boulevard and Pine Street

* Brainerd at Moore roads

* Northbound Highway 153 at Gadd Road

* Northbound Highway 153 at Hamill Road

* Fourth Avenue and 23rd Street

* Dayton Boulevard at Signal Mountain Road in Red Bank

* Dayton Boulevard at Ashland Terrace in Red Bank

The grants are being heralded as a good partnership in a county where driver education is not offered in public schools. Hamilton County Schools scrapped the program years ago and has been reluctant to restart it, citing the expense of insurance, cars, instructors and fuel.

"These tickets are going to save lives," said Missy Crutchfield, the city's Education, Arts and Culture Department administrator. "Teen drivers are dying, and they are also killing other drivers."

Ms. Crutchfield, whose department will administer the program, said the city is obtaining driver education books and has numerous corporate partners.

It is hoped the pilot program will see its first class by the end of the school year, she said.

Driver education classes cost about $400 on the private market, but city leaders plan to contract with driving instructors and offer classes at community centers.

Specifics on how the grants will be awarded have not yet been worked out, said Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield.

"We would like for it to be need-based, but that might be too hard to figure out," Mr. Beeland said. "The grants will pay for a significant portion of the registration fee, but it's kind of hard to just give anything away."

Students will be required to complete the course, which usually requires 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours behind the wheel, said Johnny Essex, owner of Essex Driving School on Mountain Creek Road.

"Driver's education is an investment," Mr. Essex said. "Think about all the lives lost, injuries and property damage caused by young, inexperienced drivers."

Mr. Essex said the grant program would be welcomed, though he is not involved in its development and hasn't heard any details about its implementation.

"I think driver's education is so important it should be mandatory," he said.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry Johnny Essex, right, works with Hannah Davidson, an 18-year-old freshman at UTC, to complete a driver's education class as she tries to earn her driver's license. Chattanooga plans to provide grants for driver's education through it's traffic camera ticketing program.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry Johnny Essex, right, works...

City leaders agree. Mr. Littlefield holds this program out as a priority, Mr. Beeland said. They also hope the program will tamp down some of the negative feelings about the traffic-camera program.

"We knew that driver's education was something that was desired by the community," Mr. Van Winkle said. "We're putting this money to good use. It's not balancing our budget."

Mr. Littlefield, Mr. Beeland and Ms. Crutchfield said they've gotten tickets from the camera-enforcement program.

Red Bank, the other Hamilton County municipality with red-light cameras, directs proceeds from its program back to the general fund, said City Manager Chris Dorsey. That money helps pay police officers and a part-time clerk who helps administer the program, he said.

"Nobody likes getting a ticket, regardless of whether it's from an officer or from a camera," Mr. Beeland said. "We've all contributed to this fund."