Solicitor won't intervene in Ridgeland traffic camera dispute

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone says he will not intervene in an ongoing dispute between town of Ridgeland officials and state lawmakers over the town's use of traffic cameras along Interstate 95.

Some state lawmakers and Ridgeland Mayor Gary Hodges have been at odds over how to interpret a state law passed in July that allows speed or traffic camera to be used only in emergencies and stipulates that tickets based "solely on photographic evidence" be issued in person within an hour of the alleged violation.

Ridgeland officials claim the law applies only to the use of unmanned cameras and not their system, in which a Ridgeland police officer mans radar and camera equipment while parked in an RV beside the interstate.

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and other state lawmakers claim town officials are intentionally skirting state law. Grooms accused Hodges of "instructing his police officers to break the law."

Stone said he does not foresee a role for his office in the dispute.

"My office doesn't have any reason to be involved," Stone said. "This is going to be resolved either by the judicial branch or by the legislative branch ... and not by my branch, the executive branch."

Earlier this month, Ridgeland became the first municipality in South Carolina to use automated traffic cameras to ticket speeders.

The town's traffic camera is triggered only if the vehicle is traveling faster than 81 mph, snapping photographs of the offending driver and the vehicle's license plate.

The image of the driver is compared by a police officer to the driver's license photo of the vehicle's registered owner. If they are a match, a speeding ticket is mailed to the driver's home. If the driver isn't the vehicle's registered owner or the photograph isn't clear, no ticket is issued.

Hodges defended the system and touted the use of cameras as a way to help recoup more than $1.1 million a year he says Ridgeland spends policing and responding to car crashes on the seven miles of I-95 within its limits.

"Since the South Carolina legislature has not permitted unmanned cameras to ticket speeding vehicles, we followed the advice of both law enforcement officials and legal experts to design a program that operates in accordance with existing state laws," Hodges said in a written statement. "Our program is different from the standard automated enforcement programs that rely 'solely on photographic evidence.'"