Lawmakers Want To 'Free' Tennessee Of Red-Light Cameras | Nashville Public Radio

Lawmakers Want To 'Free' Tennessee Of Red-Light Cameras

Mar 10, 2015

A group of Tennessee lawmakers is trying again to unplug red-light traffic cameras.

Opponents argue the devices have failed to live up to promises. But the measure, which backers are calling the Tennessee Freedom From Traffic Cameras Act, faces long odds in a legislature that has rejected past attempts to put an end to their use.

About a dozen communities have red-light cameras, including Murfreesboro, Chattanooga and Memphis.

The Tennessee Freedom From Traffic Cameras Act would force those cities to wind down their current contracts. The measure would also ban unmanned speed cameras and traffic devices that collect cell phone or GPS data.

Democratic Senator Lee Harris, a former Memphis city councilman, says most of the money from cameras winds up in the pockets of the private corporations that install them.

"We say that the funds are going to go to neighborhood programs and neighborhood grants," he said. "If I counted on one hand the amount of grants we made from the millions of dollars that we received from red-light camera revenues, I'd still have fingers left."

Memphis Sen. Lee Harris, left, Chattanooga Sen. Todd Gardenhire and Dresden Rep. Andy Holt hope to ban red-light cameras.
Credit Chas Sisk / WPLN

The measure, House Bill 1372, was filed by state Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga). Harris has signed on as a co-sponsor.

Opponents of red-light cameras say they might actually cause more accidents than they prevent, because drivers often slam on their brakes to avoid tickets. They also say the cameras infringe on privacy, the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty, the right to face one's accusers and constitutional protections against self-incrimination.

Few drivers seem to like red-light cameras, but previous efforts to turn them off have come up short.

Four years ago, lawmakers did agree to new rules on traffic cameras. Those included better signage, a maximum fine of $50 and language clarifying drivers couldn't be ticketed if they started into intersections while the lights were still green or yellow.

But Holt called the cameras inherently unfair. He said he hopes this year lawmakers will embrace complete repeal.

"I think there's something to be worried about, and that is the technological creep that we continue to see take place," he said. "There's more and more of this technology that's being implemented, and I personally think it's a poor replacement for law officers themselves."

The bill is scheduled to come up Wednesday in the Senate Transportation Committee and the House State Government Subcommittee.