WTOC Investigates: Do tickets from Savannah's red light cameras have to be paid?

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Red light cameras. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're here to stay.

Savannah has four red light cameras located at Abercorn and White Bluff Road, Abercorn at Mall Boulevard, Abercorn at DeRenne Avenue, and Abercorn at Montgomery Cross Road. Local leaders started the program 15 years ago to make Savannah's streets safer.

The cameras are ready to snap a picture of any vehicle that passes through an intersection after the light turns red. The ticket will show up in the driver's mail box, leaving many wondering "who is watching?"' and "do I really have to pay?".

The Savannah Police Department only has one person directly involved with the red light camera program. That person's job is to make sure the car in question ran a red light.

Lt. Torrance Garvin with the department said, when people spot the cameras while driving, it's a nice reminder to drive safe.

"It gets people aware, because you have signs, it reminds people. Okay, try not to speed up, try not to beat the light itself because you will be caught on camera," Garvin said.

If a person is caught running a red light camera, an officer reviews ten seconds before and after the time stamp to confirm the violation. If it's accurate, they're hit with a $70 fine.

Since 2015, the city of Savannah should have earned a little over $3 million, but the actual revenue received is $2.2 million, leaving a difference of nearly $800,000, meaning thousands of people don't pay their $70 fine. I spoke with some locals about red light camera tickets, and there was some confusion.

WTOC spoke with some locals about red light camera tickets and there was some confusion.

"If you get a red-light ticket, I don't know, I would just throw it away," Candice Newell said.

"If I run a red light, I feel like I should be stopped at that moment. I don't want to go back and have to argue with a camera or something like that, and how sure is the camera as well," Anthony Doniel said.

Savannah's Director of Public Communications Michelle Gavin said drivers need to take the citations seriously.

"It's just like not paying a parking ticket. That goes on your record and eventually if you get enough citations or don't pay it could ultimately result in having your car booted," Gavin said.

Keep in mind, Parking and Mobility Services would have to find the vehicle first. The ticket is sent to the address connected to the offending vehicle's license plate.  So, if someone's from out of town, their car won't be tracked down and booted.  However, locals are taking a gamble parking downtown because, after receiving three notices, their vehicle could be booted if spotted by Parking and Mobility Services, which has a 70 percent collection rate.

"If people know that they're going to have to pay a price, their behavior will change, they will not run the red light" said local driver Steve Alvin.

For those wondering if the red light cameras actually make the intersections safer, both Savannah Police and the city of Savannah said there has been a decrease in the number of serious accidents; however, there is no way to know for sure because an accident could happen at a red light intersection and have no connection to trying to beat the red light camera. The past few years the city of Savannah has collected anywhere from $689,000 to nearly $800,000 a year in red light ticket fines.  All of the money goes to the city's Parking and Mobility Services for road improvements and upgrades.

If a car is booted, it will cost the price of the red light camera fee, any associated late fee, and a $60 boot fee to get it removed.

Copyright 2018 WTOC. All rights reserved.