Tennessee lawmakers take aim at traffic camera enforcement

| 12/2/2009

Tennessee state lawmakers are meeting this week to review the use of traffic cameras.

Critics of the program want the General Assembly to look at requiring Tennessee cities that have red-light cameras or speed cameras posted to put a portion of the revenue generated into public safety.

Rep. Ben West, D-Nashville, told those gathered Tuesday, Dec. 1, at a meeting of the House Transportation Committee on communities using the camera systems that “we can take a portion of (the revenue) and move it to the safety programs.”

Use of the technology for traffic enforcement is an annual point of contention in Tennessee, as well as nationally. In recent months, the states of Maine, Mississippi and Montana have banned the enforcement tool.

The recent wave of activity to prohibit the use of photo enforcement has been a blow to red-light and speed camera advocates who say the devices are about safety and using technology in a helpful way. Others say the devices free up police to address bigger issues.

Opponents, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, question the claim that cameras are solely intended to keep people safe. The Association says the motivation of the local jurisdiction and the manufacturer is economics.

That concern brought members of the Transportation Committee together this week to discuss camera enforcement.

“How much of our liberties do we want to continue to give up?” asked Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga. “We can call it safety all we want to. But it’s about revenue streams.”

Tennessee law now allows cities to use the photo enforcement revenue any way they see fit.

Some lawmakers want to try and rein in what the revenue is spent on. Others point out that simply limiting use of the revenue to safety purposes doesn’t necessarily mean it would be used for public safety.

Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap said there are many things that fall into the category of public safety. He urged lawmakers to be more specific if they are going to pursue that.

Rep. Phillip Johnson, R-Pegram, urged lawmakers to consider a hands-off approach. Johnson said he is concerned about state government getting too involved with how local governments spend their revenue.

“Once we start determining what the locals are doing with this revenue, we’ll have to start determining what they’re doing with every bit of revenue,” Johnson said.

Another change to the state’s red-light camera program that is being discussed would increase the length of “yellow time” at signals, as well as making sure the duration of the signal is the same throughout the state.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Tennessee in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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