Cameras are now watching six of the busiest intersections in Kingsport. Ned Jilton II photo.
KINGSPORT - It's not "Candid Camera," and you probably won't be smiling when you realize you're on film.
In an attempt to prevent traffic injuries, the Kingsport Police Department contracted with Arizona-based RedFlex last year for the installation of red light cameras at six of the busiest intersections in the Model City.
After months of delays and a threat by Mayor Dennis Phillips to cancel the contract, the six cameras were installed last month and went live on March 31.
Over the next 30 days, warning tickets will be sent to motorists who run the red lights at these intersections. After the month-long grace period, $50 tickets will be issued to violators.
The six intersections are Stone Drive and Eastman Road, Stone and Clinchfield, Stone and Union, Lynn Garden and Carter's Valley, Fort Henry and Lebanon and John B. Dennis and Wilcox. These intersections were chosen because of their high number of accidents with injuries.
Deputy Chief David Quillin, who has worked closely on this project, explains how the cameras work and what motorists can expect to receive in the mail if they try to beat the light.
Quillin said the cameras are operational 24-hours a day, seven days a week, taking pictures and recording video of the intersections. If a suspected violation takes place, the information is sent to the Kingsport Police Department, where a police officer will review the pictures and video to determine if a violation took place, and if so, a citation will be mailed to the motorist.
"It would be like (the police officer) was standing at the intersection or sitting in their cruiser and saw the same thing," Quillin said. "If it's clear cut, then yes, but if it's questionable, then no."
Each citation will include a PIN number and a Web site address where motorists can log in and look at three photos and a 12-second video of their violation.
Motorists can pay the $50 ticket (along with court costs) through the city's new Web site - coming online later this year - by mail or at the Justice Center. Motorists can also contest the ticket like any other ticket.
Critics of the new system say it's nothing more than a money grab for the city. Quillin said it's all about safety.
Under the terms of the contract, RedFlex installed the cameras for free, but the company will receive 80 percent of the ticket price or $40 for the first 95 tickets issued at each intersection each month. Kingsport will receive the remaining $10. After 95 tickets, Kingsport and RedFlex will split the $50 fine.
RedFlex will not receive a portion of the court costs.
"We looked at the traffic crashes that we've had over the last few years. In the last 10 years we've had over 36,000 crashes in the city limits and over 9,000 injuries," Quillin said. "A few years ago it was unbelievable the amount of fatalities we were having. We have really tried to step up what we're doing and through enforcement, education and engineering ... we've seen a decline.
"We just look at it as just another tool that's being used all across the country and would enhance what we're doing and try to help reduce those numbers."
Another concern is the red light cameras will cause an increase in rear-end accidents. Quillin said there have been conflicting reports on this concern.
"Some studies have shown a slight increase of rear-end crashes, some reports have shown a decrease and some neither way," Quillin said. "The type of crash we're trying to prevent is a T-bone crash. The chances of somebody being injured in that type of crash are much more significant than in a rear-end crash."
Quillin said the contract allows the police department to increase the number of cameras to 10 intersections, a decision that has not been made yet.
"I don't know that we'll do that. We're certainly going to evaluate what this does and how it works and that's always a possibility we may add some more," Quillin said.