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Red light cameras get green light

The town of Farragut is moving forward with its plan to place automated redlight cameras at four of its main intersections.

The Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved an ordinance to establish the program and penalties for its violation at its Thursday, Dec. 13, meeting at Town Hall.

Town attorney Tom Hale said the ordinance, which determines the procedure in which the Town will handle violations of the program, is based primarily upon the ordinance used by the City of Knoxville, with a few changes made by the Town, including the procedure to be followed when a person contends they are not the driver of the vehicle that has been photographed violating the law.

“The way it was written was that you only had to have an affidavit written by the owner of the car stating that he or she was not the driver and that he or she knew the person who was driving and identifying who that person was. We felt that in order for the court to act, the court would need a witness there to testify and it would not be sufficient just to have an affidavit,” he said.

Several Town residents have previously voiced concerns that their driving record might be unfairly affected should they not be able to sufficiently prove they were not driving their vehicle at the time a violation occurs.

Capt. Ben Harkins of the Knox County Sheriffs Office was on hand to answer questions regarding how charges for these violations are handled by KCSO.

Harkins said, “If a an officer observes a red-light violation, if they actually see it, they make a traffic stop and write a citation. [The violator] would be liable to pay a court cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $125.

“If a camera catches you, it is a $50 violation and it will not go on your drivers history as a moving violation.”

Town resident Bella Safro said she had “some serious reservations” about the Town implementing this program.

“Under Tennessee law, running a redlight is a Class-C misdemeanor. In section 55-8-109 of Tennessee code, running a redlight is punishable by a fine of $50 or jail time of 30 days. If you look at section 15-304-2 [of the proposed ordinance] ‘A violation for which a penalty is imposed under this section shall not be considered a moving violation and may not be recorded by the Knox County Sheriffs Office or the State Department of Safety on the driving record of the owner or the driver of the vehicle and may not be considered in the provision of motor vehicle insurance coverage.’

“The town of Farragut attempts to effectively exclude itself from obligation to comply with the laws of the state by failing to report a moving violation to the state,” she said.

Safro also cited a law stating the sovereign power given by the state to a town cannot be delegated to Redflex,, the company that will be responsible for installing, initially viewing photographs of violations and collecting monies for photographs deemed by an officer of KCSO to be a true violation of the law, or any vendor for collection of debt.

“In a broader view, I also need to mention that in several states, municipalities trying to enforce redlight camera regulations and ordinances, because ordinances were found illegal as a matter of law, were required to pay back all the fines that were collected by citizens,” Safro said.

“California found them unconstitutional and illegal, Michigan found them unconstitutional and illegal, Ohio found them unconstitutional and illegal. Why the town of Farragut wants to stick its neck right in the middle of a lawsuit, I do not know,” she added.

According to court records, the use of redlight cameras was not deemed unconstitutional and illegal. Portions of the ordinances drafted by municipalities using the cameras and/or the contracts between municipalities and Redflex were deemed unconstitutional or illegal.

“There is no question there are legal challenges and arguments being made on very technical grounds regarding whether or not these cameras should be allowed. I have a problem with that kind of an issue when the proven evidence is that all these cameras do is take pictures of people who are violating the law and these pictures are being used to prove the violation,” Hale said.

“When this first started here, I was very skeptical and concerned that the technology would be good enough to record the information that would make it absolutely clear. I have seen the demonstrations, I have seen the pictures, and I have seen how they work. It is amazing,” he added.

Alderman Tom Rosseel said the use of redlight cameras was a public safety issue.

“Statistics that have been presented to us show that T-bone accidents have been shown to be reduced by 50 percent with no increase in the number of rear end collisions if there are proper signs indicating that the intersection has redlight cameras,” he said.

“We do not view this in any way as a moneymaking operation. In fact, our Town administrator, Dan Olson, suggested that we may even lose money, but again, this is a public safety issue and if we do develop any funds from this, I think we have made it pretty clear that it is the consensuses of the board that they should be applied toward traffic safety. I think its important that the residents of the town of Farragut understand that,” he added.

Alderman John Williams agreed.

“Quite frankly, the statistics from a public safety standpoint are so compelling it is impossible to ignore them,” Williams said.

“I am more than happy to proceed with doing this from a public safety perspective and let the courts and judges involved in these cases decide these other issues after the fact,” he said.

Hale added, “We do not have a full-time police force in this town and it seems to me the least we can do is something like this to protect the citizens from people who do not seem to care about the fact that other people may not be in as big a hurry as they are and will stop at a stop light.”

Assistant town administrator Gary Palmer was given the go-ahead to proceed with the necessary steps to obtain contracts with Redflex.


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