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Haynes moves to legalize ‘rolling stops’

State Rep. Ryan Haynes has introduced legislature in the House of Representatives that would allow rolling right turns at red lights.

“This is merely an attempt to start a discussion, to make sure that appropriate tickets are being given,” Haynes, District 14, said of House Bill 64.

The bill would allow drivers to roll through a right turn at a red light if, he said, they have yielded to oncoming traffic and to pedestrians and were not a safety threat at all. The bill would apply across the state, and would change how municipalities utilize red-light cameras.

Farragut Photo Enforcement manager Ben Harkins didn’t pull any punches when he said, “I think this is an incredibly bad idea.”

“I think it’s a good law, and we in Tennessee should be able to enforce good laws, whether it’s with an officer standing on the corner or through the use of technology,” he added.

Haynes conceded there “is an element of safety involved with these cameras,” but said some drivers turning right on red without stopping first — as the law currently requires — weren’t endangering anyone, and were being fined on a legal technicality.

But “if they fail to yield, and if they are a safety threat to somebody, which would be evident in that video, they could still be cited for a ticket, and they should be,” Haynes said.

If the proposed change to state law led to any safety shortfalls, Haynes said he would pull the legislation.

“I don’t want to see anyone’s safety threatened; this is merely a discussion to make sure we’re giving appropriate tickets,” he said.

Haynes said a definable “rolling” speed (whether it’s 2 mph or 12 mph) likely would be decided in committee, as would how an observing police officer (for a red-light camera system or not) would decide if there were a safety threat to pedestrians or oncoming traffic.

“We have yield signs all across the state of Tennessee, and I think an officer knows when somebody fails to yield. You kind of hope common sense prevails.

“I think a lot of these tickets, we’re giving tickets to people who are hit with a $50 fine, who, yes, they broke the law; they didn’t come to a full and complete stop. But were they really a safety threat? In a lot of these instances, no,” Haynes said.

Harkins said stopping before turning right on red only takes three or four more seconds than rolling through, but the law saves lives because it forces drivers to stop and look before turning.

“The most common statement I’ve heard from drivers at crash scenes is that they did not see the other vehicle before collision occurred, or right before collision occurred, and that’s in all sorts of crashes,” Harkins said.

“And now we’re talking about, through legislation, allowing people to use that same sight and judgment to see if it’s clear to make a turn before they stop,” he added.

Harkins said the vast majority of drivers do stop before turning right on red, and that this proposed change in the law was “to help a small percentage of people who are violating the law.”

He said he was shocked that any state legislators would propose a bill to change a law without doing any kind of study on the effects of that change first. He also wondered whether the law change would affect insurance rates or federal highway funding.

“I think we’re going to make our intersections much less safe by allowing vehicles to turn right on red without stopping,” Harkins said.

Farragut Mayor Ralph McGill said the red-light cameras in Farragut were installed only for safety reasons, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists that drivers often don’t look for if they’re rolling through red lights on right turns.

“We give it all away. It’s not about revenue for us,” McGill said of revenues from the cameras. The Town donates revenues from red-light cameras, above operation costs, to a community grant fund that is doled out every year.

But McGill said there was a larger issue at stake in this discussion — just who is responsible for safety on local streets?

“We are in this national debate on the size of the federal government, how much authority does it have. Yet the state wants to do essentially the same thing to municipalities,” McGill said.

“The question is, is anyone, at any level of government, supposed to provide safe streets and intersections? I think the answer is yes. And does anybody have any liability if they don’t provide safe streets? And who is that, that has the liability?

“In Farragut, we have the liability. And that means we have the obligation [to make streets safe],” he added.

Haynes said he does not expect the bill to garner as much discussion in the state legislature as Tennessee’s heavier concerns — such as budget shortfalls and school reform.

“Those issues take precedence over red-light cameras. And that’s what Tennesseeans really expect us to focus on. I don’t anticipate this to take up much of the General Assembly’s time, as it shouldn’t,” Haynes said.

“We’ll see where it moves forward,” he added.


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