KPD addresses red light camera misconceptions

Rain Smith • Oct 20, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — On Monday night, the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen debated whether the $100 fine for red light camera violations is too steep and if it should be lowered.

There are currently eight intersections in the city equipped with cameras from Redflex traffic systems, an Arizona-based company.

For each citation, $50 pays for the city’s processing fees or court costs. The remaining $50 is split between Redflex and the city; $40 to Redflex for the first 95 citations issued each month, and after that an even split of $25 to each entity.

Nearly three years into the arrangement, some Model City motorists are still expressing confusion about the system.

Via letters to the editor, and comments on timesnews.net, a plethora of misconceptions are expressed: A right turn on red does not qualify as running a light; Redflex tickets are more expensive than those issued by uniformed officers; Kingsport has lowered the time a yellow caution light is displayed, increasing the number of citations issued to unsuspecting motorists.

“It’s important for people to realize the reason they were installed to begin with,” said Kingsport Police Department Deputy Chief David Quillin. “People can speculate about that purpose, but we genuinely wanted to try and improve the safety of the motoring public.”

As for turning right on red, yes, that is not a violation, with a couple of caveats. A motorist may turn right on red if there are no signs prohibiting a right turn on red and the vehicle comes to a complete stop — even if no traffic is coming.

“Many people turn right on red, and may slow down to 15 or 20 mph, and they don’t understand why they received a citation,” Quillin said. “Well, you have to come to a complete stop.”

Video of these right turn violations, as all tickets issued through the Redflex system, are reviewed each morning by a Kingsport police officer, ensuring that a citation is merited.

Quillin acknowledged theories that Kingsport has lowered the amount of time a yellow caution light is displayed at Redflex intersections. He said such conspiracies, “simply are not true.”

The length of time a caution light is displayed does vary from intersection to intersection. Quillin said the lights are programmed by Kingsport traffic engineers, in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Transportation , using traffic flow and national standards as a guide.

And the fee for a Redflex citation, $100, is the exact same amount as red light violations issued by uniformed officers, Quillin said. And, as with tickets issued in-person by an officer, they can be disputed in court.

The difference here is that if one pays a Redflex ticket without dispute, it will not appear on their driving record. If you dispute a Redflex citation in court and lose, the judge may then decide the ticket should appear on one’s driving record.

Quillin said that is a judge’s discretion and varies case to case depending on the circumstance.

That citations issued by Redflex cameras are making the city a large sum of money is undeniable. Police say they collected a total of $650,000 in red light camera penalties during the 2009 fiscal year.

Officials say the majority of that money, between $430,000 and $440,000, went back to Redflex. About $108,000 went to the police department’s technology fund. The rest, between $80,000 and $90,000, went to the general fund to pay for personnel reviewing and processing violations.

While these are hefty numbers for most people, particularly during the economic recession, the city insists generating money was not the goal.

According to data provided by Kingsport police, 2008 saw 317 fewer crashes with injuries within the city than 2007. There were three or fewer T-bone crashes at seven of the intersections outfitted with red light cameras.

There were no T-bone crashes in 2008 at the intersection of Stone Drive at Eastman Road, which saw three such wrecks in 2007.

Two T-bone crashes on Lynn Garden Drive at Carters Valley Road in 2008 cut the 2007 total in half.

Concerning rear-end crashes, 30 occurred on Fort Henry Drive at Moreland Drive in 2008 — the most for any Redflex intersection. Crash narratives revealed 16 of those involved drivers in the turn lane, police said. They rolled into vehicles in front of them while looking back and to their left to watch for oncoming traffic.

The intersections of Clinchfield and Union on Stone Drive each had 21 rear-end crashes, the second highest tally. Eastman Road was not far behind with 18, and there were 14 on John B. Dennis at Wilcox.

“Overall, we feel that the Photo Enforcement Program is continuing to be effective,” Police Chief Gale Osborne previously told the Times-News.

Osborne also noted a fairly steady decline in the number of red light citations issued each year.

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