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Red light program gets a green light


Sunday, December 10, 2017

The number of warning tickets issued during the grace period of Greenville’s new red-light camera program clearly illustrates a problem that had already made itself abundantly clear to most drivers in the city: too many people run red lights.

Between Oct. 15 and Nov. 15, the program issued 3,661 warning tickets for violations at five intersections — an average of more than 120 a day. Cameras at the intersection of Arlington and Greenville Boulevards recorded the most violations at 1,395, an average of more than 46 daily.

The intersection of Charles Boulevard and 14th Street saw 722 warning tickets during the same period. Violations at Charles and Fire Tower Road totaled 684, at Arlington and Fire Tower 543 and 317 at Arlington and Memorial. Not coincidentally, the intersections are among those that see highest number of vehicle crashes in the city, many leading to serious injuries and fatalities.

City planners placed the cameras purposely at the most dangerous intersections. They hope the technology will convince drivers that they need to slow their roll and obey safety rules to avoid crashes and save lives. The numbers over time will bear out the program’s effectiveness. Meanwhile, many voices continue to question whether it is fair, legal and ethical.

A chief concern is that the program skirted a constitutional requirement that penalties from the tickets go to the school system. Others involve the duration of yellow lights and that the system targets the registered owner of the vehicle, not the person who drove it through the red light. A lawsuit filed in September against the City of Greenville and the Pitt County Board of Education by a Greenville man opposed to the program details several concerns.

Officials in Pitt County began work to implement the program in 2015 and took careful steps to ensure it did not run afoul of the law. All of the revenue generated by the program, 100 percent, goes to the school system, which then pays American Traffic Systems $31.85 a ticket and the city $6.250 a month.

Some may call that a loophole, but it was one that was thoroughly discussed by elected officials and administrators and debated in open session by lawmakers at the state level as well as by members of the Greenville City Council, the school board and the Pitt County Board of Commissioners. The majority of those officials decided with great public support that the cameras were needed to address the imminent and obvious threat posed to the safety and health of the public by red-light runners.

Critics who say the duration of yellow lights needs to be extended choose to ignore the experience most drivers have at the city’s intersections. Sit at any busy crossroads for a few minutes and the blatant disregard for safety becomes clear as multiple cars glide through stale yellow’s and fresh reds. In Greenville, green means go, yellow mean go real fast and red means stop if your going to get caught.

The number of violators and volume of traffic in the city make face-to-face enforcement of the law ineffective, impractical and cost-prohibitive. In deference to that reality, the camera program does not issue criminal penalties such as points on driver licenses. The $100 fee is a civil penalty that can be appealed.

Penalizing the car’s owner rather than the driver is not ideal, but most vehicles are operated by their owners or their owners have the ability to hold accountable the people they allow to drive their cars.

At this point, the program appears on track to collect more than enough revenue to pay for itself and provide extra and much welcome revenue for the school system. If that comes at the expense of some irresponsible drivers, so much the better. It the program succeeds in convincing more driver to act responsibly, then we all are winners.

Read Monday’s paper for a piece from the Wilson Times opposing the camera system.