Beaufort News

Drivers ticketed by Ridgeland speed camera would get their money back under proposed bill

Drivers who paid fines after being caught on camera speeding through Ridgeland on Interstate 95 would get their money back under a bill introduced Tuesday in the S.C. Senate.

The legislation would require the town to reimburse every driver cited as a result Ridgeland's camera ticketing system and to pay $500 per ticket to the state Treasurer's Office. The money to the treasurer would go to the S.C. Highway Patrol, according to the bill.

If passed as written, Ridgeland would have to come up with more than $2 million.

The bill marks the legislature's second attempt in less than a year to prevent Ridgeland from using cameras to patrol the section of the interstate running through the town. Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, chairman of the Senate's Transportation Committee, introduced S336, which would amend several parts of the law dictating how speeding tickets are issued across South Carolina.

Grooms' bill bans speeding tickets "based in whole or in part upon photographic evidence ... whether the camera or other electronic device capturing the photographic evidence was attended or unattended at the time."

The proposed legislation would require officers issuing tickets to stop the speeders themselves and hand the citation directly to the driver. It prohibits law enforcement agencies from using mail or any other parcel service to issue traffic tickets.

Attempts to reach Grooms and Ridgeland Mayor Gary Hodges, who has defended the town's system, for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

The legislature's first attempt to stop the cameras passed in June and included an amendment allowing speed or traffic cameras to be used only in emergencies, and it required that tickets based "solely on photographic evidence" be issued in person within an hour of the alleged violation.

Ridgeland launched its program in August. Hodges and other town officials have argued that law applies only to the use of unmanned cameras -- their cameras are attended remotely by a police officer in a nearby RV.

Since August, town officials estimate they have written 3,000 to 4,000 tickets using the cameras, and mailed those tickets to drivers caught on camera.

The town's general fund totals about $4 million, according to Ridgeland officials.

The bill was referred to the Senate Transportation Committee, according to legislative records.