Faulty speed camera raises questions in Savannah

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 6:16 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - This month marks the start of the first full semester the Savannah Police Department (SPD) will use speed cameras to enforce the speed limit across 10 school zones citywide. And, they said they plan to add more than a dozen new cameras soon, 16 in all.

WTOC Investigates has been tracking these cameras across our area, including those in Chatham County. Drivers have reached out to us, claiming the cameras are issuing inaccurate tickets.

When a WTOC employee received a warning citation, we checked our cameras and found his ticket was issued at a time his car was sitting idly in our employee parking lot.

Savannah Police said it was human error addressed before any real tickets were issued, and that the machines work. But some drivers, like WTOC employee Ian Robinson, are skeptical.

“For me, it just seemed kind of off,” Robinson said.

Robinson tells us he has never been issued a speeding ticket before. That changed in October, when a new speed camera near White Bluff Elementary captured his blue Chevrolet going 39 mph in what is usually a 35 mph zone.

The warning ticket shows it happened during after school pickup, when the limit is reduced to 25 mph. The ticket time said 3:57.

The problem?

“Everything said I was here at the time... which I think was 3:57,” he said.

Robinson said he did drive by the camera earlier that day, around 12:57, hours before the reduced speed window. But by 3:57, he said he was back here at our studios off Chatham Parkway, almost 10 miles away.

We checked our cameras to verify.

“And, low and behold, we look at the camera, and he sends me a picture of my car sitting in the parking lot at 3:57... just sitting basically right here,” Robinson said. “And I’m like, huh.”

We took Robinson’s ticket to show Savannah Police. Assistant Police Chief Robert Gavin said, Robinson is right.

“This is not us being sneaky. This is not us trying to make money,” Gavin said.

Gavin said, the camera was off by three hours. But, he said they found out about it, and fixed it right away. He said the malfunction happened during a 30-day warning period after they installed the cameras in October.

Notably, he said no real tickets carrying fines were issued.

“So, this was part of the, one of the cameras that was off on its time,” Gavin explained. “This is human error. This was someone who was supposed to set that camera to the specific time, and didn’t do that.”

Still, it’s not the only issue viewers said they have with these cameras. Several of you reported the flashing lights - like the ones by Williams and Shuman Elementary Schools in Savannah, which SPD said are there to help warn you when reduced speeds are in-place - don’t always flash.

They were working when we drove by Tuesday, though. And, Gavin said they also are not required by law.

Then, there’s the hours of enforcement. SPD said they differ across school zones. But, we found those reduced hours are not clearly posted in all school zones, and are also not easy to find online.

We could not find them listed anywhere on the department’s web site.

Finally, these cameras are maintained by a third-party company, Blue Line Solutions. The department cited a speed study by Blue Line Solutions when it made its case for the cameras.

We wanted to know: is that a conflict of interest?

“The people who put up the cameras for you to do this study are the same ones getting 25% of the cut, right?” we asked.

“Yeah, but we knew speeding in school zones was an issue. And we’ve done our own speed studies over the past 15 years. We’ve done different school zones, and things like that. So, the speeding issue is always one that we’ve dealt with,” said Asst. Chief Gavin.

Gavin said, their request is simple.

“We want you to slow down around our children,” he said.

But Robinson said, he just doesn’t trust the cameras.

“I have changed my commute because of it. I don’t want to get a ticket because of some faulty machine,” Robinson explained. “Most people are just going to pay it, and not know, and not question it.”

Assistant Chief Gavin told us speeding is the #1 complaint the department receives. After installing the cameras, SPD reported a 59% drop in speeding in those school zones.

Gavin said they plan to install speed cameras in front of 16 more Savannah schools.

If you think a Savannah speed camera issued you a ticket that is not accurate, you can call SPD’s traffic unit at (912) 525-2421, or 912-651-6675.

Here is a look at the tickets issued by speed cameras in Savannah school zones so far, through the first week of January. The numbers are provided by the Savannah Police Department.

A.B. Williams Elementary: 2,279

Gadsden Elementary: 900

White Bluff Elementary: 1,227

Shuman Elementary: 94

Garrison School for the Arts: 864

Myers Middle on 52nd: 170

Myers Middle on Skidaway: 595

Savannah Classical Academy: 2,053

Savannah Early College High: 255

Windsor Forest Elementary: 172

Total citations issued: 8,609