Red light cameras: Are they working?

Red light cameras: Are they working?

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A WTOC Investigation found serious crashes have decreased in the years since the Savannah city leaders installed red light cameras at several intersections. However, it also uncovered a growing number of unpaid tickets that now equals more than $1.2 million in just the last five years.

The cameras catch people who run a red light making a left turn at the four intersections on Abercorn Street. A police officer reviews the picture then decides whether to ticket the driver. The $70 ticket is mailed to the address linked to the car tag.

Red light camera at White Bluff Road and Abercorn Street
Red light camera at White Bluff Road and Abercorn Street (Source: WTOC)

“The whole program originally started with a state grant,” Sean Brandon, the city’s Mobility and Parking Services director, said. “That grant was primarily designed to try to reduce serious crashes at major intersections.”

The city added the first camera in 2004 at Abercorn Street and White Bluff. They added more at Abercorn and DeRenne and Abercorn and Mall Boulevard in 2005. They added the finals ones at Abercorn and DeRenne and Abercorn and Montgomery Crossroad in 2010.

“They’re pretty much the same intersections,” Brandon said. “The only variable that has changed is the fact that the systems are there.”

The goal is to prevent crashes between people who run a red light making a left turn and other drivers going straight.

Those types of crashes are down at each of the four intersections, according to data from the city. The biggest drop is at the White Bluff intersection. There were 8 of those crashes from 2000 to 2004. In the 14 years since, there have been only eight.

“We can point to that as a pretty good indication that it’s doing what it’s supposed to do,” Brandon said.

When it comes to serious crashes, the cameras seem to be working. However, getting drivers to pay the $70 tickets has proven to be a little less successful.

Ticket amounts and fine totals
Ticket amounts and fine totals (Source: City of Savannah)

WTOC looked over data from 2015 to 2019. The city mailed out more than 66,200 tickets. The fine amount totaled more than $4.6 million. The city has only collected about $3.3 million, leaving a shortfall of nearly $1.3 million.

“I think we should always be looking for ways to increase it,” Brandon said. “We definitely would love it to be higher, but based on what we see from our peers, that’s actually pretty good.”

One option is to send the unpaid tickets to a collection’s agency. Sean Brandon said that still likely would not get 100 percent of the tickets paid. Ultimately, city leaders focus on the fact that the cameras have led to fewer crashes, and not any lost revenue from tickets that go unpaid.

The city department that tracks parking tickets is also responsible for these tickets. For Savannah residents who run red lights, enforcement crews can come to your house and boot your car. Tourists who get tickets can be harder to track down, according to Brandon.

For now, there are no plans to add the cameras at any other intersections. The only cost the city pays is a nearly $14,000 monthly bill for maintenance.

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