Traffic-camera issue doesn't need any further study or delay

February 22, 2011 

I am the co-founder of iTraffic Safety of Ridgeland and have been a member of the South Carolina business community for the past 32 years. I set out to build a South Carolina company that would make our roads safer and create jobs. In doing so, there has been a firestorm of misinformation coming from a few elected officials.

The company's start point was in 2009, when there were 32,675 speeding-related accidents in South Carolina. The ongoing speeding epidemic, as AAA Carolina reports, has caused South Carolina to have the third-highest traffic fatality rate in the nation.

In 2010, according to the Department of Public Safety, 82 speeding fatalities were recorded on South Carolina interstate highways. Speeding has not only exacted a high human cost, but South Carolina residents have suffered financially by this devastation of life and property. The Department of Public Safety estimates that interstate speed-related accidents cost South Carolinians $121 million last year.

As many of us have seen in the news, police officers' injuries and fatalities related to traffic enforcement have more than doubled in the past 12 months.

We can turn this situation around by first recognizing two basic public-safety truths: Speeding kills, and consistent enforcement of traffic laws will save lives.

Since my 2003 introduction of an automated enforcement system to the state Department of Public Safety director, there have been multiple reviews and presentations to South Carolina's law enforcement community. The common refrain has been: "If it improves public safety, I am for it."

In 2010, the town of Ridgeland made the courageous step to lead the state. The reason to do so was simple. Every day there were, on average, 1,248 super-speeders traveling through the town's jurisdiction on Interstate 95. Despite years of active traffic enforcement by the state Highway Patrol, the Jasper County Sheriff's Office and the Ridgeland Police Department, the high volume of super-speeders continued to cause serious accidents on a regular basis.

Full-time, traditional law enforcement is expensive, inefficient and dangerous. For both the state and municipalities, the cost of comprehensive, "old fashioned" traffic enforcement is financially impossible.

The town of Ridgeland and more than 80 other U.S. communities have found that by using best-available technologies and common sense, there is a better, safer way to enforce speed limits.

In our six months of operating in Ridgeland, not one I-95 traveler has been hospitalized, and the number of fatal accidents is zero. Why? Because nearly 60 percent of the super-speeders stopped their speeding ways on Ridgeland's section of I-95 since the program began. The department's daily statistics show dramatic speed reductions.

This past week, state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, chose to support state Sen. Larry Grooms' Senate Bill 366, with a caveat that a commission be formed to study speed-enforcement programs.

The research Davis seeks is readily available at no additional expense. Ridgeland has accumulated six months of "live" statistics. This information is in his backyard and free. When this information is combined with 40 years of studies conducted by multiple governments, nonprofit organizations and universities, Davis or any other interested individual will be able to make an informed decision on the merits of speed camera systems.

Not to shortchange the proposed time-consuming, expensive study, but the universal conclusions on speed camera programs are: They provide consistent, safe enforcement of speed laws; speeding, accidents and deaths are generally reduced 50 percent or more where they are deployed; and police officer injuries and fatalities are dramatically reduced.

For these reasons, speed cameras have been deployed in the United States since 1987. Today, there are more than 100,000 active photo-enforcement installations worldwide.

It is unfortunate that Grooms' bill requires our law enforcement officers to hand-deliver a speeding ticket. This bill does not provide constructive alternative ideas to deal with the excessive speeding issue; it does, however, create unrealistic and dangerous demands on our law enforcement community.

Conversely, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, (House Bill 3443) creates an opportunity for dialogue on a proven system that will save lives and money.

The legislature should be cheering I-95 public and officer safety improvements.

Interestingly enough, these improvements come by way of a South Carolina business employing South Carolinians. Not only are we leading the nation on interstate public safety improvements, but we are creating jobs.

These achievements are done without costing the state one penny. As a bonus to the state, it gets 63 percent of the fines collected.

This is clearly not an expansion of government as Davis fears. Rather, it is a reduction of government resources being expended on an inefficient process.

If every citizen could walk or stand in the breakdown lane on I-95 for just 10 minutes, there would be a new appreciation for the speeding epidemic that has created daily life-threatening situations to motorists, public safety workers and tow truck operators.

The nonprofit Insurance Institute of Highway Safety supports the Ridgeland Police Department's program.

Elected leaders should not run our state on misinformation and emotion. The challenges that face our state are serious and require honest dialogue and courageous decisions.

I ask South Carolina's leadership to embrace the private enterprise system that can enhance the effectiveness of a government operation.

Now is the time to improve public and officer safety. All who have a vested interest in South Carolina should remind our elected representatives that we want our state to be the best it can be at saving lives, not the third worst.

William B. Danzell of Hilton Head Island is president and chairman of iTraffic Safety LLC, Ridgeland, S.C.

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