The process might have been backward and slow off the mark, but we finally got a well-rounded assessment of the use of cameras to enforce traffic laws.
The Traffic Camera Enforcement Commission's recommendation that a ban on use of the cameras stay in place wasn't surprising. Implicit in the questions the commission was asked to answer was the premise that using cameras to catch speeders and mail tickets to them was not a law enforcement slam dunk.
We say backward because the study came after the legislature twice passed laws aimed at stopping the practice and after the town of Ridgeland and the private company iTraffic came up with a work-around to the first attempt in order to use the cameras on the town's stretch of Interstate 95.
The provision in last year's law creating the commission to answer legal, ethical and policy questions about using traffic cameras was the work of state Sen. Tom Davis, and he gets credit for raising the questions that should have been asked and answered from the get-go.
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They include criteria for using traffic enforcement camera systems; the positives and negatives of involving a private company in enforcing traffic laws; safety issues related to camera use; and constitutional issues raised by this method of enforcement.
The people who served on the commission lend weight to its conclusions. They include state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, Senate President Glenn McConnell, the director of the state Public Safety Department, the presidents of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Association and Sheriffs' Association, as well as representatives of the Attorney General's Office, the S.C. Bar Association and the S.C. Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Among the commission's findings:
The report raises questions about due process. It notes that drivers accused of speeding well after the fact would have little evidence in hand to defend themselves. And given the volume of tickets generated by an automated system, an officer overseeing the system would be unlikely to recall the circumstances of a specific driver on a particular day.
One conclusion we suspect was heavily influenced by Toal was that the state's criminal justice system doesn't have enough judges and magistrates to handle the increased number of citations that would result from statewide use of traffic camera enforcement systems. Already backlogged courts would become even more burdened. The report warns that tax dollars would have to be spent to expand traffic courts and deal with appeals in circuit court.
If using traffic cameras ever comes up again, the commission's report should be the first stop.