Beaufort News

Haley signs speed camera ban into law

Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill Friday outlawing Ridgeland's use of cameras to enforce speeding laws on Interstate 95 -- and anywhere else in the state such systems might be employed.

The bill, introduced by state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, was sent to Haley's desk Thursday after passing the Senate on Tuesday.

The new law bans the cameras and speeding tickets based on photographic evidence, and requires officers hand-deliver speeding tickets to accused speeders. It also includes plans offered by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, to create a state commission composed of law enforcement officials, lawyers, politicians and other authorities to examine the ethical, legal and policy issues created by traffic cameras.

The camera system will be immediately shut down, Ridgeland Mayor Gary Hodges said in a statement on the town's website. The cameras were deployed in August after the town struck a five-year deal with iTraffic, a company that relocated to Ridgeland and helped the town set up and administer its system.

"While we may not necessarily agree with the state shutting down one of the most effective public safety programs in South Carolina's history, we will fully comply with the law as we always do," Hodges said in the statement.

The new law was the second time in less than two years that lawmakers took aim at the town's cameras.

About a year ago, the General Assembly passed a law banning speed cameras except in emergencies.

Ridgeland officials said that law applied only to unmanned cameras. The town's system is attended remotely by a police officer in a nearby RV.

Bill Danzell, iTraffic chairman, praised town officials for fighting state lawmakers.

"It is never easy to be a public-safety pioneer," Danzell said in an email. "Courage and a thick skin are prerequisites. From the seatbelt law to photo enforcement laws, progress is never in a straight line. By the Ridgeland Police Department's commitment to embrace new technologies and a common-sense work practice, both South Carolina residents and visitors benefited from reduced accidents, injuries and saved lives."

Grooms saw the camera system as a money grab by the town and iTraffic and believed it raised constitutional questions.

"There are many things you can say about South Carolina, but we absolutely do not want to gain the reputation of being the nation's speed trap," Grooms said after the bill passed the Senate in March.

The town also is being sued in federal court by three ticketed drivers who say their constitutional rights were violated, that iTraffic had too much control over police operations and that mailing tickets out of the town's jurisdiction constituted mail fraud. The lawsuit requests that Ridgeland return all fines it has collected.

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