Gwinnett Police Lt. Danny Holmes dreads enforcing traffic light laws, considering it among the most hazardous jobs he does.
"If a car runs through a red light, the officer has to see the light is red and that the violator has gone through it," Holmes said. "That means the officer has to be behind him. Then, he has to run the red light and weave through traffic to catch him. It can be challenging."
Police are seeking better options. The most promising solution is taking photos of people running red lights, then mailing them tickets.
Police will ask county commissioners today to consider trying out "photographic red light enforcement" for 30 to 60 days to see whether it can get people to slow down, stop blocking intersections and stop running red lights.
But the idea is not popular with some civil libertarians, who view overhead cameras as raising the specter of Big Brother.
Georgia ACLU Director Debbie Seagraves said she's not sure she likes red light enforcement cameras but said she thinks they would pass constitutional muster. She said there is a question of whether people have an expectation of privacy driving down a public highway.
"Intuitively, we don't like it," Seagraves said. "It's one more government intrusion into our lives. It would possibly withstand a legal challenge. I'm much more concerned about the level of surveillance intrusion into our personal lives, possibly into our own homes under the Patriot Act."
Two vendors, LaserCraft of Norcross and ACS of Washington, have offered to install cameras at dangerous intersections to let the county test the equipment. No tickets will be issued during that time, said police Maj. Dan Bruno. He said the photographs will be tossed after the experiment is over.
State law allows local governments to assess a $75 citation to offenders.
LaserCraft, using laser technology such as police radar guns, will make several calculations per second on each approaching vehicle. If it determines that a car is about to run the red light, it takes photographs of the car approaching the intersection, as it goes through the intersection and then of the license tag.
The photographs are sent electronically to a secure Web site where the police can download them to see whether the system is reliable.
In real life, LaserCraft would fill out the citation, minus key vehicle ownership information, which would be filled out by the county and mailed to the owner of the offending vehicle, said company President Scott Patterson.
ACS uses cable embedded in the roadway to trigger the cameras. ACS officials could not be reached for comment.
County Administrator Charlotte Nash said the county likely will attempt to test the entire process for at least a sample of the offenses.
Patti Muise first proposed the idea in 2000 when she was on the County Commission. Commissioner John Dunn said Monday that he's concerned about the cost and the perception that they're being used as a revenue source for the county. Commissioner Bert Nasuti said he's keeping an open mind.
"It's like instant replay in football games," Nasuti said. "It may be a technology who's time has come. I'm not totally against it, but I'm not totally for it."
The city of Decatur uses cameras to deter people from running red lights, and the cities of Marietta, Savannah and Riverdale also are considering installing cameras.
If the county decides to buy the equipment, it could cost up to $50,000 per direction at each intersection, Patterson said. Leasing it would cost between $3,000 to $8,000 a month per approach, he said.
Bruno said officials haven't decided which intersections would be used as test sites should the Commission decide it's interested. He said police would work with county Department of Transportation officials to determine which locations have the most traffic and the most accidents.
Automated red light enforcement has been used overseas for decades and is catching on across the United States as local governments try to prevent dangerous "T-bone" crashes.
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety says motorists running red lights kill more than 800 people a year and injure more than 200,000, more than half of whom are pedestrians.
A recent institute study in Oxnard, Calif., showed that red-light-running violations across the city dropped a total of 42 percent after cameras were introduced at only nine intersections.
11th among the states in red-light-running deaths, with 195 between 1992
and 1998, according to a recent institute study.
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