Traffic Safety Measure Gets Red-Light in Atlanta

March 14, 2008

A bill making it harder for local governments to install red light cameras ran into a red light of its own on Wednesday in the Georgia Senate.

Senators tabled the measure, but not before Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle scolded them for trying to clutter it up with a stack of “Mickey Mouse-type amendments.”

“And I’m not real happy about it,” Cagle warned from his podium presiding over the Senate.

Supporters of red light cameras _ which snap photos of drivers who disobey traffic laws _ say they’re needed to change dangerous driving habits.

Opponents said they intrude on personal liberties.

“You can’t cross-examine a camera,” Sen. John Wiles, R-Marietta, said.

Sponsored by state Sen. Jack Murphy, the bill would require local governments to apply to the state Department of Transportation to install red light cameras and to show that they’re needed to prevent serious accidents at a particular intersection, not just to bring in extra cash.

“We think they need to be for health and safety and not for revenue,” the Republican from Cumming said.

Murphy said red light cameras are currently operating in some 30 Georgia cities and they could continue to proliferate without any oversight. Violators captured by the cameras face fines.

Some lawmakers said hitting drivers in the pocketbook works.

“Unless we’re going to fund a cop at every corner there is no better way than this camera system to get people to stop running red lights and change their driving habits,” said state Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle.

Senators tried to tack on a half-dozen amendments, including one that would have funneled revenue from the camera fines into the state’s cash-strapped trauma system. The majority of the state’s trauma cases arise from traffic accidents.

But Murphy said the move was likely unconstitutional.

Cagle ruled that most of the amendments weren’t relevant to the bill. The Senate then voted 49-4 to table the measure. It will be reconsidered in committee and could still make it back to the floor by the end of the session.

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