Traffic camera legislation advances in subcommittee

Traffic camera legislation advances in subcommittee

March 2nd, 2011 by Andy Sher in Politics State

NASHVILLE - Rep. Vince Dean won approval in the House Transportation Subcommittee Tuesday for his bill aimed at cities' perceived abuses of traffic-enforcement camera systems.

But the former Chattanooga police officer's effort was sideswiped soon after. The subcommittee, of which Dean is chairman, also passed another lawmaker's bill that would make the entire camera-ticketing process unenforceable.

"That bill, in effect, will kill traffic-camera enforcement," said Dean, R-East Ridge.

Dean's bill is a compromise aimed at resolving a years-long dispute over how to rein in the increasing use of red-light and speed cameras.

Modeled in part on Chattanooga's photo-enforcement program, Dean's bill would standardize enforcement statewide. Among other things, it would require rigorous traffic engineering studies on the need for cameras before they can be installed. The bill would ban such studies from being performed by camera vendors eager to lease their equipment to cities.

Dean's bill also would block cities from issuing photo-enforcement tickets to drivers who fail to come to a complete stop when making a right turn on a red light. In fact, it would block cities from using cameras to issue any tickets for someone making a right turn at a red light unless there is a sign posted prohibiting right turns on red.

His bill passed out of the committee on a voice vote, with two lawmakers, including former Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, recorded as voting "no."

Harmon said the bill didn't go far enough in limiting late payments on the $50 civil fine issued to motorists caught by traffic cameras.

Second bill

Then Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, a fierce opponent of traffic cameras, offered his own bill, which he called a "relatively simple fix."

Under Dennis' bill, a citation based on a traffic enforcement camera would have to be served upon the driver in the same manner as a criminal summons and prosecuted in the same manner as a traffic citation based upon the observation of a law enforcement officer. Cities no longer could mail the citation to offenders under the bill, but instead would have someone physically serve it.

But the bill also would do something else, Dean said, noting that photo-enforcement programs currently send tickets to the registered address of the vehicle that was speeding or ran the red light.

"What it [Dennis bill] does, it requires you to identify the driver - while it's already in statute that you cannot take a photograph of the driver of the vehicle," Dean said. "So there is absolutely no way to identify the driver of the vehicle merely by a photograph of the tag.

"It kills traffic enforcement with cameras."

Both bills are headed to the full House Transportation Committee. Dean has said that previous attempts to rein in cities' abuse of photo enforcement have been killed by critics' attempts to outlaw them. He said if Dennis' bill looks likely to pass the full Senate Transportation Committee, he will attach an amendment exempting Hamilton County.

Reach Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.