House passes red-light measure

ATLANTA - Cities and counties would have to share the wealth from their red-light cameras with the state under legislation passed by the House.

But a compromise approved Tuesday night in the final hours of a daylong legislative marathon would let local governments keep a technology many police departments have come to rely upon, shelving efforts to repeal the red-light camera law.

The bill, passed 110-60, would allow cities and counties to keep enough fine money from motorists caught on camera running a light to cover their costs of operating the program, plus 25 percent of the profit. They would have to turn over the other 75 percent to the state to help fund a planned statewide trauma care network.

As originally written, the bill called for doing away with red-light cameras. Supporters accused cities of placing cameras in the most heavily congested intersections where they could rack up the most fines, rather than putting them in areas experiencing high accident rates to improve safety.

"A lot of the local governments have not used red-light cameras in the way we decided they should be used,'' said Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville. "(They) see red-light cameras as a source of revenue.''

But the program's defenders argued that the cameras have proven effective in every jurisdiction where they've been installed.

"This technology is used worldwide,'' said Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, D-Atlanta. "Every study shows there's a reduction in crashes and a reduction in injuries.''

Rep. Tom Rice, R-Norcross, chairman of the House Motor Vehicles Committee, said red-light cameras have become indispensable to law enforcement in Gwinnett County.

"With 750,000 people, the officers on the beat do no traffic enforcement,'' he said. "They answer 911 calls 24 hours a day.''

By the time the bill reached the House floor, it had been molded into a compromise that would allow local governments to continue using red-light cameras but with less incentive to try to make money off of the program.

The measure also includes a list of new restrictions on the cameras. Before installing a red-light camera at an intersection, a local government would have to look for other ways to improve safety at that location.

Cities and counties would not be allowed to tinker with the duration of yellow lights at an intersection where a camera has been installed. And the bill instructs the state Department of Transportation to develop standardized rules for placing warning signs at intersections that have red-light cameras.

As the legislation heads to the Senate, concerns remain that the new funding formula would discourage local governments from pursuing the program as aggressively as they would otherwise, to the detriment of public safety.

"Cities and counties ... are not going to do it,'' said Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Atlanta. "What's the incentive (for them), with 25 percent of the revenues and 75 percent going to the state?''

But Loudermilk said the new formula would force local governments to prove that they're using red-light cameras for the right reason.

"If the cameras truly are about safety, the cities will be willing to keep them,'' he said.