published Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Traffic camera legislation advances in subcommittee

NASHVILLE — Rep. Vince Dean won approval in the House Transportation Subcommittee Tuesday for his bill aimed at cities’ perceived abuses of traffic-enforcement camera systems.

But the former Chattanooga police officer’s effort was sideswiped soon after. The subcommittee, of which Dean is chairman, also passed another lawmaker’s bill that would make the entire camera-ticketing process unenforceable.

“That bill, in effect, will kill traffic-camera enforcement,” said Dean, R-East Ridge.

Dean’s bill is a compromise aimed at resolving a years-long dispute over how to rein in the increasing use of red-light and speed cameras.

Modeled in part on Chattanooga’s photo-enforcement program, Dean’s bill would standardize enforcement statewide. Among other things, it would require rigorous traffic engineering studies on the need for cameras before they can be installed. The bill would ban such studies from being performed by camera vendors eager to lease their equipment to cities.

Dean’s bill also would block cities from issuing photo-enforcement tickets to drivers who fail to come to a complete stop when making a right turn on a red light. In fact, it would block cities from using cameras to issue any tickets for someone making a right turn at a red light unless there is a sign posted prohibiting right turns on red.

His bill passed out of the committee on a voice vote, with two lawmakers, including former Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, recorded as voting “no.”

Harmon said the bill didn’t go far enough in limiting late payments on the $50 civil fine issued to motorists caught by traffic cameras.

Second bill

Then Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, a fierce opponent of traffic cameras, offered his own bill, which he called a “relatively simple fix.”

Under Dennis’ bill, a citation based on a traffic enforcement camera would have to be served upon the driver in the same manner as a criminal summons and prosecuted in the same manner as a traffic citation based upon the observation of a law enforcement officer. Cities no longer could mail the citation to offenders under the bill, but instead would have someone physically serve it.

But the bill also would do something else, Dean said, noting that photo-enforcement programs currently send tickets to the registered address of the vehicle that was speeding or ran the red light.

“What it [Dennis bill] does, it requires you to identify the driver — while it’s already in statute that you cannot take a photograph of the driver of the vehicle,” Dean said. “So there is absolutely no way to identify the driver of the vehicle merely by a photograph of the tag.

“It kills traffic enforcement with cameras.”

Both bills are headed to the full House Transportation Committee. Dean has said that previous attempts to rein in cities’ abuse of photo enforcement have been killed by critics’ attempts to outlaw them. He said if Dennis’ bill looks likely to pass the full Senate Transportation Committee, he will attach an amendment exempting Hamilton County.

Reach Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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ucjb said...

Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah is my new hero and obviously a champion of the constitution.

March 2, 2011 at 1:44 p.m.
jpo3136 said...

By allowing private companies to profit from, but not be publicly accountable for, the issuing of punitive citations with fines, our legislators overstepped their bounds. It's not prudent to allow private companies to profit from penalizing people whose rights begin with a presumption of innocence. Automating the process, by using cameras and computers, instead of using people to make decisions, only further limits liability for the profiteers; it's likely that those limitations will result in errors that would then require people to prove or beg for a dismissal of charges.

We should never place our people in a position where they have to beg for their rights from a computer's decision.

We need to keep people in the decision making process as regulators. That's the policing in "Police." Trying to replace police officers with computers is not an acceptable substitute for preferred law enforcement practices. Using technology as a tool is okay; but, that's not what Tennessee lawmakers did when they permitted the automated issuing of traffic tickets by private companies who used robotic detection systems and automated citation issue.

In effect, Tennessee lawmakers allowed computers to penalize people for money. This is totally unacceptable. We expect thinking and accountable people to be the decision makers in government.

We also expect a refund.

There are some difficult questions at hand as to how it is we have allowed a profiteering company to gain access to confidential information about drivers, as the company chose to detect that driver's identity. What controls have been put in place to protect the privacy of innocent people from marketing efforts not related to issuing a traffic ticket? With no responsible people in the decision making process, we would have little recourse to stop unethical business practices which might exploit our citizens. Given the amoral and selfish conduct of large companies in the past five years, we have not seen sufficient ethical conduct as to believe that companies are trustworthy custodians of private information. At least with government, we have an opportunity to respond as The Public.

As difficult as the job may be, we need to continue to gain the benefit and the responsibility of support from the police by thinking people.

Trying to replace police officers with a computer for a private businessman's profit was a poor idea. It should have been squelched immediately. We're shocked to see that it has been allowed to continue for this long.

Not only should the program be stopped, but these inappropriately collected fines should be returned to the people who were victimized by this obviously unjust law.

100% total refund, with interest, is what's expected.

Pay back the robo-ticket money. Be sure to include a public apology for inconvenience and poor judgment. Thanks.

March 2, 2011 at 8:52 p.m.
Leaf said...

As far as ticketing for speed is concerned, I think it would be better to ticket for bad driving - not necessarily fast driving. Tailgating, driving while texting, weaving through traffic, and even driving slowly in the left lane probably cause more accidents than speed alone.

April 13, 2011 at 9:19 a.m.
librul said...

Ignorance on parade. Speed limits are imposed on the basis of highway design and engineering, not on a whim. Idiots like L4F are THE problem. All of the things Leaf has mentioned above are problems associated with people who scoff at traffic law placing themselves and others at risk. Logic is a rare commodity in this thread, for sure.

If police departments are incapable or unwilling to enforce speed limits, then relying on electronic means is a logical option and it should be utilized to the fullest.

April 21, 2011 at 1:08 a.m.
fairmon said...

I have not been in Red Bank in over a year and will not be in Red Bank again. I stopped at a red light behind the white line and paused at least 5 seconds then turned right on red. I got a ticket in the mail. I watched the video which only showed where I pulled out, the video started too late to show I stopped, paused and made sure traffic was clear. Some young smart ass wouldn't listen and kept saying I am not going to argue with you when I tried to explain about the video. I could not find out how to pursue it further and then found out cash was the only acceptable payment method, that made me wonder. I hope Red Bank becomes a ghost town! I no longer patronize the two businesses I used in Red Bank and I hear many businesses in Red Bank are struggling.

July 14, 2011 at 11:38 p.m.
jxlanger said...

According to a recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA),Chattanooga ranks SEVENTH in the country for most dangerous to drive in(based on no. of traffic fatalities per 1000 population). If you have ever driven anywhere around this town, that isn't too hard to believe. Something surely needs to be done, because what the authorities and "experts"are doing now sure as hell isn't working!

September 7, 2011 at 1:36 a.m.
ChBr02 said...

@harp3339 I recently heard a snippet on the radio about someone (possibly the mayor of Red Bank) was doing a study to see how to increase business in Red Bank. I think the answer is obvious:

1) Run more successful businesses out of town, or at least force them to close down. 2) Erect more stop light cameras. 3) Setup more & more frequent speed traps.

December 9, 2011 at 11:19 a.m.
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