Camera evidence not enough to issue some tickets

By: Angela Starke Email
By: Angela Starke Email

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) - Red light cameras have caught the attention of lawmakers. They passed a new proposal that says evidence from the cameras alone isn't enough to give tickets to violators turning right on red.

Existing laws to stop on red are still in effect but the purpose of cameras at intersections may have to change when it comes to issuing tickets.

"Under the change of state law, the only way a person can be cited under new contracts would be if an officer standing out there pulled them over and wrote him a citation," said Ben Harkins - Traffic Enforcement Manager for the Town of Farragut.

Harkins spends hours poring over tapes of traffic incidents and says the recent proposal that passed the legislature is flawed.

"Basically, the state legislature has taken away an enforcement tool for us to be able to enforce laws in Farragut as well as other municipalities across the state," Harkins said.

The bill says drivers turning right on red will no longer be given tickets based on evidence from a red light camera. Lawmakers say cameras can't tell if a driver has stopped behind the white line or not - and they say more evidence than just the camera is needed.

"Some people were stopping at intersections and just staying there," said State Sen. Stacey Campfield, (R) Knoxville. "They were so scared of getting a ticket they didn't want to do anything."

Campfield was one of the bill's supporters.

"We're not saying they can't allow right on red," Campfield said. "But if they're going to allow right on red, they just can't have the cameras."

Campfield stresses that existing laws are still in effect and any signs posted that prohibit right turns on red need to be obeyed.

Some drivers think that's just fine.

"I think there needs to be a margin of error and cameras need to allow for that," according to Robin Herrington, a Knox County resident.

"I'm 35 years old and never had a wreck, but I've gotten lots of tickets for running red lights," Rebecca Baker said.

Harkins says while a traffic enforcement tool has been taken away, he will abide by whatever the legislation enacts. And he hopes drivers will not see the new changes as a license to break the law.

There will likely be a decrease in the amount of money the cameras usually bring.

In Knoxville, from January to March 31, 2011, there were 38,766 potential traffic violations reported and 17,962 citations mailed to drivers. About $1,024,741 was collected from fines.

The city saw $373,863 of that money go to the General Fund with $650,878 going to Laser Craft - the vendor that maintains and operates the cameras. At intersections with the traffic cameras, there was a 13% decrease in the total number of crashes during the same period last year.

The Town of Farragut had 3311 incidents recorded and issued 1526 citations. Last year, they used the money from traffic violations to fund a total of $154,000 in community grants.

The new bill also says a traffic engineering study must be done before any new enforcement cameras can be installed and prohibits cameras that monitor speed within two miles of a reduced speed limit sign. It will be enforced with new contracts for traffic enforcement.

The proposal has passed the Senate and House and now awaits Gov. Bill Haslam's signature.


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