The number of motorists cited monthly for red light violations through the steely eyes of Redflex Traffic Systems’ cameras in Johnson City this year dropped by nearly half when Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law legislation to check the power of the digital law enforcement tool.
In June, 909 citations were issued. The bill sponsored by Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, and Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, went into effect July 1. And by the end of that month the count dropped to 483, a decrease of 426 citations, or 48.1 percent.
The local count for August was down further at 477 citations issued.
“Good,” State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said after hearing about the decline in citations in Johnson City. “That was the intent of the law. The cameras should be used for safety purposes. The new law seems to be working.”
The bill requires that traffic studies be conducted before red light traffic cameras are in place and that the studies must show the cameras are specifically being installed for public safety reasons. The bill also prohibits officers from issuing citations to motorists turning right at a red light unless the intersection is clearly posted with a sign stating right turns on red are banned.
It also limits fines to a flat $50 maximum if paid on time with no added handling fees or court costs and disallows speed enforcement cameras within a mile of a decrease in the speed limit of 10 mph or more.
When the bill was still pending, Maj. Mark Sirois, Johnson City Police Department’s Photo Red Light Enforcement Program project manager, told the Press the measure would “take a little bit out of the hands of local jurisdictions that have deemed their practices appropriate.”
“I think it’s a negative,” Sirois said this week. “From our perspective, there is still a danger because motorists may believe they have the right to turn right at a red light without stopping. The law is still in place that says you must make a complete stop before proceeding. The thing that’s changed is if a Redflex camera catches the violation, the video is no longer admissible as evidence. If an officer sees you doing that, you will be cited.”
Redflex is now rejecting all right turn on red violations.
“If one gets through to us, we reject it,” Sirois said. “Our goal with the program has always been to promote safety, especially at intersections. I think it remains to be seen how the new laws affect safety in the long run.”
The five-year agreement between Johnson City and Redflex Traffic Systems was signed in November 2009.
Sirois said the new legislation has not, at this point, cause any need for the city to renegotiate the contract.
Until the bill went into effect, the cost of the citation was $50, which the city split with Redflex depending on the number of citations per month. Court costs were $49. One dollar went to the Tennessee Department of Safety, which brought the total to $100. If violations were contested, a $13.75 “litigation tax” also was assessed and given to the state’s Department of Revenue.
The new law caps these costs at $50, which means the city and Redflex still will divvy up those funds, but there will be less to share.
A downward slide in net city revenues also can be seen in a comparison of June ($47,771) and July ($33,362), a difference of about $14,410, or slightly more than 33 percent.
“August will be our first big negative impact month, due to the lag time from day of offense to the mailing of the bills,” said Janet Jennings, city finance director.
The city is obligated to pay Redflex the following percentage of revenue collected from violations. The payment is to be made monthly and applies to each designated intersection: 1-100, 79 percent; 101-150, 50 percent; and 151-plus — 36 percent.
In February, the Press learned that more than half the people who had contested their guilt regarding red light traffic camera violations in Johnson City Municipal Court had their cases dismissed. Now the court costs are off the table, and at this point it is unknown how any contested cases might be handled.
The contract allows red light traffic cameras at up to 20 intersections, and the city has the right to expand its program to include the use of portable speed units (to calculate mph) at any time during the contract term. The city currently has cameras at six intersections, and there’s been no discussion so far to install more, Sirois said.
Kingsport and Jonesborough also are equipped with the Redflex devices. Bristol has no plans to install them.