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Crash numbers up, tickets down since cameras began

SNELLVILLE - Snellville's busiest intersection had nearly as many accidents in the past nine months as it did in the year before red-light cameras began snapping.

But officials say the cameras have made the city safer, and they put the statistics on the city's Web site to brag about it.

The statistics prove people are paying attention to the lights, they said, with the monthly total of citations now less than half of what it was when the cameras began snapping.

According to the Web site, 77 crashes have occurred at the intersection of U.S. Highway 78 and Ga. Highway 124 in the past nine months, which is when all three camera systems became operational.

The U.S. 78 and Ga. 124 system was the first to go online in the city, which was the fourth Gwinnett jurisdiction to begin using the technology in the past two years.

While numbers weren't provided, City Manager Jeff Timler said the majority of the accidents were rear-end collisions caused by people trying to brake to avoid running the light. The more dangerous T-bones have become less frequent.

Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer said the intersection is safer. "We've reduced the serious accidents, but the other ones are happening," he said. "You can't argue with the effectiveness of those camera systems. They have made those intersections a great deal safer."

The Web site also gives statistics for the intersection of Ga. 124 and Ronald Reagan Parkway, where the number of accidents of the past nine months is 63 percent of the number from the previous year, and the intersection of U.S. 78 and Ga. Highway 84, which had 71 percent of the accidents.

During a recent campaign for Snellville City Council, candidate Vince Buono railed against the system.

The local real estate investor, who only got 15 votes, said he was amazed at the traffic slowdown before city's biggest intersection.

"They don't know if they should slam on the brakes or punch the gas," he said of drivers wary of the cameras in a story last month.

Oberholtzer, who endorsed another candidate in the election, said he believes the statistics don't support the criticism, even if the accidents are going up.

"When you have those kind of accidents (rear-ends), people are speeding. ... You can't make people slow down, but you can make them aware that cameras are there," he said.

He extended invitations to critics, including former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, to find another way to improve safety, but he said no one has taken him up on the offer.

On the Web site, officials also noted that the number of violations recorded each month has gone down dramatically, from a high of 3,100 in one month to an average now of 1,400 total at the three locations.

In March, a Gwinnett Daily Post study revealed a decline in ticketing over time at all nine intersections in the county that had systems at the time. Accident data did not reveal a trend at that time.

Timler said the camera systems, which produce $70 tickets that are mailed to vehicle owners, are still paying for themselves, despite the drop in ticketing.

"If you are reducing the amount of violators, you are reducing the processing" and the administrative costs associated with it, he said.

But if the number drops below 1,000 violations a month, the city could have a hard time covering the $422,000 annual lease on the technology, he said.

Snellville Police Chief Roy Whitehead is out of town this week at a police chiefs convention. He was unavailable to clarify numbers. Another officer said he was unaware if the number of collisions at U.S. 78 and Ga. 124 had surpassed the 80-mark during the week since the information went online.