Ridgeland mayor defends I-95 camera tickets

Doubts persist about the legality of Ridgeland's use of cameras to enforce speed limits on the stretch of Interstate 95 that passes through town limits.

But Mayor Gary Hodges said there is no doubt the enforcement is making the road safer. The number of drivers going 81 mph or faster is down by 46 percent and accidents are down 36 percent, he said in an e-mail.

"More than a million vehicles travel through our town on I-95 each month, and they are now a lot safer than they were just three months ago," Hodges' e-mail to The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet read. He also said there has not been a fatality along that section of highway since the program started in August. "This program is clearly a major success for the town of Ridgeland, and we are extremely proud of the fact that we have solved a very serious problem."

The speed limit on I-95 through Ridgeland is 70 mph.

Hodges' e-mail didn't say what time periods were being compared when it cited declines in speeders and accidents.

Ridgeland became the first municipality in the state to enforce speeding laws using an automated traffic camera in August when it stationed an officer, radar and video camera in a recreational vehicle parked along I-95. The officer monitors the camera, which takes photos of speeders and their cars. If a motorist is clocked going 11 mph or more over the speed limit, and if the photo of the driver matches the driver's license photo of the vehicle's registered owner, a ticket is mailed to the driver.

Ridgeland's system proceeded despite a provision in a state law passed in July that permits speed or traffic cameras to be used only in emergencies. That law also requires tickets based "solely on photographic evidence" to be issued in person within an hour of the alleged violation.

Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, who wrote the provision, criticized Ridgeland's decision to proceed and vowed to introduce legislation that would outlaw the practice in no uncertain terms when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

Also, a copy of a citation obtained by the Gazette and Packet indicates some drivers are being cited for violating a town ordinance rather than state speeding law. Two opinions from the S.C. Attorney General's Office -- one from 1988 and another from 2001 -- suggest that practice is not consistent with state law.

Hodges has said the town's system is allowable under the amendment Rutherford helped pass last summer. His e-mail did not address the legality of ticketing motorists for a violation of a town ordinance.