Knox County Chancellor Michael Moyers has ruled against traffic camera companies in their attempt to overturn a July 2011 law that ended most camera-issued right turn on red citations.
The law says drivers cannot receive a right-on-red ticket if caught only by red light cameras, unless the intersection has a sign that specifically says no right turns are allowed on red.
The move created a massive decline in revenue for traffic camera companies, including Redflex and American Traffic Solutions (ATS). Redflex installed traffic cameras in Farragut and ATS has a contract with the City of Knoxville. The traffic camera companies tried to overturn the law, but the judge interpreted the current law to be fair.
Knoxville Police Department Captain Gordon Catlett is just a click away from demonstrating the impact of running a red light during a right-turn.
"This one is at Papermill and Kingston Pike," said Catlett while showing a video of a collision. "Right on red can be dangerous to the public."
Catlett showed many videos of cases that might not be as clear cut.
"We have a clip where someone crosses the line, but then they stop before going. We would not have given that person a ticket, even though they crossed the line. They clearly stopped and looked both ways before proceeding," said Catlett.
Then Catlett opened video clips of cars that clearly zoomed through red lights while making a right turn. Until last July, those violations generated a $50 citation. The law change resulted in a drastic drop in citations issued.
"Quite a significant drop off," said Catlett. "From July through December 2010, our traffic cameras issued more than 58,000 citations. From July through December 2011, that dropped to less than 8,000."
Ryan Haynes, Republican state representative for Knoxville, sponsored the bill that changed the law in July 2011. Haynes said the traffic data since the change backs up his decision.
"Common sense tells us right on red was not the problem and it was really just a fee-grab," said Haynes. "Traffic camera companies kept telling us if we change the law the amount of accidents was going to skyrocket. That has not happened at all."
Traffic camera companies wanted the law overturned, or at least be allowed to follow the old law in cases where contracts were signed before the law change. Both Redflex and ATS expressed dissatisfaction with the judge's ruling.
"We're disappointed in the Judge's decision. The stated intent of law, as stated by the bill sponsors on both the House and Senate floors, was that it would only apply to future red-light and speed safety camera programs. We're still reviewing the ruling but this case has implications for all businesses, large or small, operating in the state. Ultimately, what's really at stake is whether or not a contract in Tennessee is worth paper it's written on," wrote Charles Territo, Vice President of Communications for American Traffic Solutions.
"It's important to clarify that the ruling interpreted (rather than 'upheld') that the state law prohibits fining drivers for improper right turns on red unless posted as 'no right turn on red'," wrote Andrea Aker, Redflex Traffic Systems Spokesperson. "Redflex Traffic Systems disputes the Chancery Court's interpretation of the law. Although Redflex has grounds for appealing the ruling, it may seek other solutions."
While the amount of tickets and the amount of money generated has dropped, Catlett said accidents are also down. He believes the years of exposure to red light cameras have rewired how people drive in Knoxville for the better.
"What we're about is public safety. So citations are down, crashes are down, and both of these are good things for us. Driver behavior has been altered and hopefully the good habits will not creep back towards the bad habits before we had the cameras," said Catlett.
Traffic cameras are not making nearly as much money, they are not losing money in Farragut. Town Administrator David Smoke said the cameras are still "breaking even." Although they are not generating profits, Smoke said they are still "making enough to pay for themselves and the program."