Cameras for speeders get Senate kudos

ATLANTA - While a vote won't be taken until next week, senators in the transportation committee looked favorably on a bill to slow down speeders using cameras.

"This is a win-win situation because you can enforce a law without dedicating an officer to it," said Sen. John Douglas, R-Covington. "The camera keeps clicking away."

Snellville's chief of police and a corporal from the Gwinnett County Police Department testified that House Bill 294 would do a lot to cut down on accidents in the suburban county.

"It's a lot safer for everybody if we can take a picture and go about our business," said Cpl. Darren Moloney, spokesman for the Gwinnett police force. "We honestly believe this will improve safety."

If approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, the bill would allow jurisdictions to put up cameras in school zones and issue tickets in the mail for drivers who go at least 6 mph over the speed limit.

State law gives the 5 mph cushion for drivers ticketed for speeding by officers.

The current version of the bill sets a maximum fine of $70, which is the same as the law allowing red-light cameras.

With the urging of the Snellville Police Chief Roy Whitehead, former Rep. Phyllis Miller filed a bill last year to add speed cameras as an enforcement tool.

The bill passed the House of Representatives, but then Miller accepted a judgeship. Rep. Melvin Everson, R-Snellville, her replacement, and Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, explained the bill to the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday.

"In some respects, we've already gone down this path," Balfour said, referring to red-light cameras.

Last March, the first red-light camera system in Gwinnett was installed at an intersection in Duluth. Since then, county police and departments in Snellville and Lilburn have begun issuing tickets through the mail.

Suwanee began a warning period for a red-light camera system Tuesday, and Norcross officials are preparing to install the cameras.

According to the bill, the revenues would be limited to traffic enforcement and accident prevention measures.

Balfour said a compromise on the bill was to exclude rental cars from tickets, but senators on the committee said they would consider amendments to add the rental cars back in.

While some of the senators said they would support a law that would allow speed cameras in any area, Balfour said such a law would have a hard time getting passed in the General Assembly.

"We don't slow down enough. ... I think we have a speeding problem not only in school zones but on highways. It's such an important issue and such an important place," he said. "In a school zone, we can save lives."

Sally Flocks of Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety said the speed cameras are most important in school zones because there is so much pedestrian traffic in that area, and the faster a car is going when it hits a pedestrian, the more likely a person hit will die.

A pilot project outside Morningside Elementary in 2004 found 914 cars driving a least 11 mph above the speed limit each day, 260 of which were driving 40 mph or faster. When people are hit by a car driving 40 mph, Flocks said, 85 percent of walkers are killed.

"The reason it matters is we are talking about pedestrians and not drivers. Speed kills," she said.