Some cities are refusing to comply with a new Georgia law mandating a one-second increase in the duration of the yellow warning period at intersections equipped with red light cameras. At least seven cities that made the required timing increase in January experienced an immediate 80 percent decrease in the number of violations. Of these, Duluth, Lilburn, Norcross, Snellville and Suwanee put the brakes on their red light camera programs after the data made it clear that the programs would no longer make money. Rome is now leaning toward dropping its program as well.
Cities like Atlanta, however, insist on maintaining their photo enforcement system. A spokesman for the city Department of Public Works confirmed to TheNewspaper that yellow times were not increased at any of the eight intersections that use red light cameras. As a result, half of the city’s photo enforced intersections actually saw an increase, not a decrease, in violations in the space of a year.
The number of tickets issued at Spring Street and North Avenue jumped from 415 in January 2008 to 504 in January 2009. During the same period, tickets increased from 37 to 46 at Piedmont Road and Monroe Drive, from 72 to 84 at Buford Highway and Lenox Road. Tickets doubled from 100 to 206 at Cleveland and Metropolitan.
State Senator Jack Murphy (R-Cumming), sponsor of the amendment that created the yellow time provision, vowed to get to the bottom of Atlanta’s refusal.
“If they’re not doing it, I’m going to find out why,” Murphy told TheNewspaper. “Longer yellow was the intention of the bill. They set the yellow too low — especially for left turns.”
Other cities like Roswell admit to ignoring the longer yellow requirement because the enforcement mechanism built into the law will not take effect until next year. In January, the legislature gave the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) authority to deny a permit to operate red light cameras to any city that fails to adhere to a number of legal requirements, including signal timing.
Under the law, cities can operate without these permits until January 1, 2010. GDOT, moreover, plays no active role in monitoring the compliance of the twenty-three cities that use red light cameras. Instead, the agency relies on the public to uncover any problems.
“Complaints about signal timing related to yellow clearance intervals should come directly to the Georgia Department of Transportation,” State Traffic Engineer Keith Golden told TheNewspaper. “Our legislators… have tasked GDOT to be the agency responsible for monitoring the implementation of this countermeasure.”
Senator Murphy intends to follow up with Golden to see why he is not doing more to ensure cities comply the longer yellow law. Golden suggested cities have an alternative if they do not wish to change their signal timing.
“It was suggested that the engineering calculated minimum values are just that — a minimum and that we should not be designing for a minimum value if there is going to be a regulatory event tied to the value,” Golden explained. “If a local jurisdiction determines that for operational issues they need the lower values — there is no requirement that they install a red light running camera.”
The Impact of Longer Yellow
Exceeding the minimum value by a second has decreased the desirability of running red light cameras by about 80 percent in compliant cities. Suwanee was first to end ticketing on January 19 after issuing just 68 citations under lengthened yellow (the equivalent of 110 tickets per month). This compared unfavorably to the 2008 average of 580 tickets per month which helped the city land $414,540 in revenue. In Duluth, the program issued 652 tickets in October compared to 215 last month.
As a result, Duluth will let its contract for the program — which generated 10,386 tickets worth $727,020 last year — expire in May. In Dalton, 122 tickets were issued at the intersection of Highway 41 and Shugart Road after the light was increased in January. The previous year, the number of monthly tickets averaged 460.
“The additional time on the yellow light has significantly reduced the number of citations because motorists have adequate time to get through the intersection,” state Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), primary sponsor of the new legislation, wrote in his weekly column. “Since most of these cities have stated that safety was the primary reason they installed red light cameras, they should be thrilled that citations have been significantly reduced; however, many are pulling the cameras out because they are no longer making a profit.”
North Carolina saw a similar reaction in 2007 when the state supreme court upheld a decision directing all of the profit in red light camera programs out of city general funds and into the state school system (read final opinion). Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greenville, Greensboro, High Point, Raleigh and Rocky Mount shut down their red light camera programs in the wake of the court’s action.