Haslam to sign Tennessee traffic camera bill into law
Posted: Monday, May 30, 2011 10:56 pm
By ERIK SCHELZIG
NASHVILLE (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam says he will sign into law a traffic camera bill that aims to eliminate their use as speed traps and reduce private vendors’ influence over where they are located.
The governor can draw on personal experience — as both an enforcer and as a violator — in deciding to enact the legislation that passed both chambers overwhelmingly.
In his previous job as Knoxville mayor, Haslam oversaw the installation of red light cameras at city intersections. And while running for governor last year, he was ticketed when he was caught speeding by a camera in Bluff City that critics deride a speed trap.
“I understand some people didn’t like them, but they worked,” Haslam said of the Knoxville cameras. “They made intersections a safer place.”
The bill decrees that speed cameras can’t be located within a mile of a 10 mph drop in the speed limit, and that tickets can only be issued for vehicles entering an intersection after the light has already turned red.
The measure also re-quires local governments to conduct independent traffic engineering studies — without the influence or money of private vendors — to determine the location of future cameras.
“I want traffic cameras only in locations where they reduce accidents and where it’s a safety issue,” said House Transportation Chairman Vince Dean, R-East Ridge and one of the bill’s main sponsors. “They’re a good tool for safety reasons, not for revenue.”
The measure did not address what percentage of fees can be collected by vendors and it does not affect current cameras for the duration of their contracts. It also doesn’t apply to mobile traffic cameras operated from vans.
The bill does include a ban on issuing tickets for failure to stop before turning right on red. Dean said it will remain a violation to fail to come to a complete halt, but that the cameras can’t recognize legitimate reasons for being in the intersection after the light turns red.
“Sometimes you have to pull beyond the stop bar to see around vehicles to see if the way is clear to turn right on red,” Dean said. “We also wanted to make certain that the public knew that if they were in the intersection they didn’t have to stop and back up when the light turned red.”
Motorist Catherine Sexton, 54, of Westmore-land, said she has been ticketed a couple of times by red light cameras in nearby Gallatin in Middle Tennessee.
Sexton said there doesn’t seem to be enough time to get through the intersections before the light turns red and the camera snaps a picture.
“Before you get to the intersection, you have to be looking for the camera,” she said. “It makes me nervous.”
Republican Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough rejoiced in at least setting a timetable for putting an end to some of the more notorious speeding cameras.
“Once and for all this horrible speed trap in Bluff City will end, and the people of the unincorporated community of Piney Flats will stop getting bilked out of the their money every time they go to work,” he said during a floor debate.
Don Weaver, city manager for the town in northeastern Tennessee, disputes claims that Bluff City’s traffic camera is purely for revenue generation.
“I disagree wholeheartedly. We put it in for safety,” he said. “We’ve caught some running over 100 mph through there. … I assume (lawmakers) don’t care if people speed.”
Weaver said the about mile-long stretch with a 45 mph speed limit is meant to protect drivers coming out of busy restaurants and nearby stores. He said he would prefer for the lower speed limit to be extended well beyond the current zone.
Red light and speeding cameras also guard the only traffic light in the town of Huntingdon in rural West Tennessee.
“I know everybody says it’s a speed trap, but we had 51 or more wrecks at that intersection,” said Huntingdon Police Chief Joe Parker. “We did a lot of things before we went to the camera, and the camera seemed to be our final hope.
“I know people don’t like them because they get caught,” he said. “But that thing has probably saved lives.”
The intersection is less than mile from the city limits, so officials there can’t independently adjust the speed limits sooner, Parker said.
Scottsdale, Ariz.-based American Traffic Solutions Inc. operates both the Bluff City and Huntingdon traffic cameras.
“These programs are not designed in any way, shape or form to deceive or, for lack of a better word, to trick motorists,” said spokesman Charles Territo. “Speed limits are marked.”
Complaints about traffic cameras mostly come from people who have been caught breaking the law, Territo said.
“This is a completely optional program, if you don’t want to be part of it, don’t run the red light or speed,” he said. “Nobody’s forcing anyone to get red light or speed related tickets.
Territo acknowledged that drivers get upset when they get tickets in the mail, but that it wouldn’t have happened if they had been following traffic laws.
“It’s emotional for individuals who get tickets, and it’s even more emotional for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and others who are injured, or in worse cases killed in red light running and speed-related accidents,” he said.
Associated Press writer Kristin M. Hall contributed to this report from Gallatin. Erik Schelzig can be reached at http://twitter.com/SchelzigAP
Published in The Messenger 5.30.11