Beaufort News

Bill to ban traffic cameras gains speed in Senate

A bill that would outlaw Ridgeland's use of speed cameras on Interstate 95 and their future use statewide moved a step closer to passage Thursday.

The measure, which bans speeding tickets based in any way on photographic evidence, was approved unanimously by the Senate on a second reading, according to legislative records. It must get a third vote in the Senate before advancing to the House for debate.

The vote indicates the Senate's strong opposition to automated traffic enforcement, said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, who sponsored the bill, S 336.

"That unanimous vote lets me know that if anyone tries to hold up this bill for any reason, it has nothing to do with the merits of the bill," Grooms said. "Everyone agrees that this practice should be banned."

Grooms said he is confident the bill soon will receive a third reading.

"I know the bill will pass and this will become law, I just don't know when," he said.

The legislation includes an amendment introduced last month by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, to create a state commission to study the ethical, legal and policy issues created by automated traffic enforcement.

Davis said lingering concerns about the legality of Ridgeland's camera system prompted him to support Grooms' measure.

"I voted to ban the cameras because, as currently used, they seem to be more about raising money than public safety," Davis said. "The Senate unanimously adopted my amendment to have law enforcement and judicial experts inquire into these matters further, without compensation or any tax dollars being spent, but right now we need to shut it down."

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

Grooms introduced his bill in response to Ridgeland's use of speed cameras on a seven-mile stretch of I-95 within its limits, despite a new law last June allowing speed or traffic cameras to be used only in emergencies.

Ridgeland officials launched the town's program in August, claiming the law applied only to the use of unmanned cameras. Ridgeland's cameras are attended remotely by a police officer in a nearby RV.

Attempts Thursday to reach Ridgeland Mayor Gary Hodges and a representative from iTraffic, the company that helped the town launch the camera system, were unsuccessful.