NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If he had his way, state Sen. Tim Burchett would get rid of every traffic camera in Tennessee.
"I'd like to just put them out of business," the Knoxville Republican said.
Burchett is the Senate sponsor of legislation that would place greater restrictions on the process by which traffic cameras photograph motorists and send them tickets if they speed or run red lights. A less stringent compromise bill is moving in the House.
Supporters of the legislation say something needs to be done to prevent local governments, particularly smaller ones, from abusing the cameras to generate revenue.
"There was no standard criteria," said Republican Rep. Joe McCord of Maryville. "The local governments could enter into any contract without any supervision. What started out in a few intersections and few cities, is now scattered across the state."
Two years ago, Burchett passed legislation that restricted fines for traffic violators to $50 and kept points off their records. His current bill would impose even greater restrictions, including placing a two-year moratorium on new cameras.
However, the compromise legislation scheduled before the House Finance Committee this week removes the moratorium provision and keeps the fine at $50, but would impose no extra fees for late payment. The original bill sought to reduce the fine to $10.
Burchett said he hasn't reviewed the companion bill, but is open to whatever places more restriction on use of the cameras.
"This is probably a bill that moves us in the direction of doing away with them," he said.
Despite the criticism, law enforcement officials say the cameras are being used properly and are effective when it comes to safety.
Knoxville Police Department Capt. Gordon Catlett told The Knoxville News Sentinel that recent data shows "red-light" cameras in particular are working.
In 2008, he said the city's split of collections with the company operating the camera system was $1,179,352, and the company's take was $2,007,831. In 2009, Catlett said the city switched to another company, but the city collected $1,143,072, and the company got $1,674,989.
He said the total percentage of crashes at the intersections with the cameras last year was down by 10 percent over 2008, and front impact or side impact collisions declined by 30 percent. Catlett said the fact that collections are going down shows there are less citations being issued because more drivers are stopping at red lights where the cameras are located.
"It's made our streets safer," he said. "Public safety has really benefited. We picked the worst intersections based on crash data."
Other provisions of the compromise legislation include requiring an engineering study before putting up future cameras, and that cities and counties make the locations of those cameras available on local government websites.
The measure also clarifies that a citation based on evidence from a traffic camera is a "nonmoving violation" and will not be reported to the Department of Safety or used by an insurance provider or credit reporting agency.
"I'm pleased with what we've got now," said Rep. Ben West Jr., a Nashville Democrat and co-sponsor of the legislation. "The police have come in on it, the sheriffs have come in on it, and ... last but not least, the legislators came in on it."
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