Legislators propose bill to ban use of red-light cameras

LAWRENCEVILLE - They got drivers to pay attention to stop lights, but now Gwinnett leaders are watching out for a stop sign of their own.

A group of legislators have proposed a bill to ban the use of cameras to enforce traffic laws, such as the ones at a dozen local intersections.

Rep. Bobby, Franklin, the sponsor of H.B. 77, said he's concerned that governments are violating people's rights while generating revenue and possibly even making the roads less safe.

"You're forced to testify against yourself. You can't confront your accuser. ... There's no due process," Franklin said. "We took an oath to uphold the Constitution."

But officials in Gwinnett said the cameras reduce the number of accidents while keeping police focused on larger crime problems.

"It creates an atmosphere where people do watch the light and don't run it," Norcross Police Chief Dallas Stidd said. "It makes people think more safely anyway."

Stidd said accidents have decreased by 30 percent at Buford Highway and Beaver Ruin Road since the city put cameras up in August. The number of tickets being issued is going down, too, since people are paying more attention to the signal, he said.

Norcross is the latest local government to begin using the technology, beginning with Duluth nearly two years ago. Lilburn, Snellville, Suwanee and Gwinnett County police jurisdictions also use cameras.

In fact, Snellville and Gwinnett police officers testified before a House committee last year to plead for the use of cameras to catch speeders in school zones.

According to county statistics, more than 20,000 drivers have received tickets at the three intersections monitored by the county police.

"The overall objective of this program is to improve the safety of these intersections," Lt. G.F. Osetkowski of the Gwinnett Police Department wrote in a memo to a lobbyist. "Since this program has been in operation, there has been a significant reduction in the number of motorists ignoring the traffic control devices. As a result of this enforcement initiative, the motoring public has benefited, due to the reduced number of violations."

Accident statistics were not readily available, but officials have said that rear-end collisions increase slightly at times after the cameras' installation, but the more deadly T-bone crashes are reduced.

Rep. Robert Mumford, the former Rockdale County district attorney who represents a portion of southern Gwinnett, is one of the co-sponsors of H.B. 77.

He said he's not against the cameras in principle but became concerned when he heard complaints that yellow lights were too short for people to stop in time.

Mumford asked Gwinnett Transportation Director Brian Allen for an explanation.

Allen responded in an e-mail that the county computes all traffic signals - including ones in cities - based on federal engineering standards.

"This interval is between 3.5 and 5.5 seconds, and is based on the specific geometrics, grade and approach speed for each intersection," he wrote. "Once determined, this interval remains unchanged unless there is a reconstruction or other major change in the basics of the intersection. ... No one else has the authorization or ability to change them."

Rep. Melvin Everson, R-Snellville, who sponsored the speed camera bill last year, said he wanted to wait to find out what would happen with the red-light cameras before pursuing speed cameras again.

"They have proven to be a great resource for accident reduction," he said. "It's going to be interesting. ... Accident reduction and safety should be a top concern and priority for elected officials and all the citizens of Georgia."