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Red Light Cameras Generate Millions Of Dollars, But Can You Fight Them?

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Some say they make our streets safer.  But others say they're just a money grab by city leaders: Red Light Cameras.   

There are four red light camera intersections in the City of Savannah generating millions of dollars off violators.  So where does that money go?  And what rights do drivers have? 

News 3's Government Reporter Greg Gullberg has been asking those questions in this Special Report.   

News 3 has been studying stats from the Department of Parking and Mobility Services.  They show more than $8 million worth of citations have been issued since the program started exactly ten years ago.  Only $6 million of that has been paid.  And with dozens of tickets being issued each day, there's plenty more where that came from. 

One flash can cost you and you might not even know it happened until you get the bill in the mail.  And Savannah drivers are sounding off. 

"I think they're okay as long as they catch somebody else and not me," said one driver.   

"It's kind of intrusive, but if that's what they're going to do, that's what they're going to do," said another. 

Any red light camera citation in Georgia is $70 each. 

"If they're going to run the lights, they need to pay for it," said one driver. 

"I really don't think it's doing anything to affect the way motorists travel on the roads.  But I think it's a way they're making money off of us anyway," said another. 

Whether you think it's for public safety or padding the city's pockets, it seems red light cameras are here to stay. 

There are four red light camera intersections in Savannah.  They're all along varying points of Abercorn Street.  They cover some of the busiest intersections on the commercial corridor.  They're in the turning lanes of DeRenne Ave., Mall Blvd., and White Bluff.  And all lanes on Montgomery Cross Road.  The focus is on turning lanes because that's where the most accidents happen. 

Everyday, 30-100 Savannah drivers open their mail boxes to find red light camera citations.  So do you have to pay it?  Or can you fight it?"

"You have 30 days to decide if you want to contest it.  But even after the 30 days, you can still contest it even if it was two months ago or three months ago. You still have that option to contest it," said Mobility & Parking Services Director, Veleeta McDonald.   

McDonald, says you can take your case to red light camera court where the judge's decision is final.    There are no penalties to your driver's license or insurance.  So what happens if you just rip up your ticket and don't pay it?  Well, if you have up to three of them - nothing.  And there are no late fees.  But don't get more than that. 

"If you get at least four of them together combined, your vehicle is eligible to be immobilized.  That means they'll boot your vehicle if you don't pay the citations," McDonald said.   

And there's a $60 fee to get that off, in addition to the cost of your tickets. 

"The purpose of it was to make people change their behavior and to make them more aware and conscientious of their driving habits.  And I think it's done its job," she said.   

So just how good of a job are they doing?  It seems drivers are taking notice, at least enough to avoid getting tickets.  Over the past six years, the number of citations has dropped sharply – by 45%. 

"The reason they did it was because of the fatalities and accidents that happened at White Bluff and Abercorn.  It's a very, very dangerous intersection.  So when they installed those in there, we have actually seen a decrease," she said.   

But the city's claim they've cut down on crashes is arguable.  Three of the intersections don't show any decrease of crashes in the past six years or since Montgomery Cross Road got them in 2010.  Although the numbers for the intersection at White Bluff are impressive. 

So where does all that money go?  About $500,000 are paid each year.  $100,000 goes towards covering the operating costs of the cameras, so they literally pay for themselves.  And the rest goes to the city's General Fund, where it can be used for any number of programs and services. 

McDonald says the city has no plans to add any more red light cameras at this time, but it's always possible depending on the wishes of Metro Police. 

Plenty of folks go to court to argue the accuracy of their citations.  But Savannah takes a step above issuing tickets from an automated system.  The city has a certified police officer review every citation.  Corporal Stan Freeman watches the video step by step, the same way you can on the department's website. 

You might remember, there used to be a red light camera on King George Blvd. in unincorporated Chatham County, but it was faulty, and has since been removed. 

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