Traffic camera enforcement warrants detailed inquiry

State Sen. Tom Davis' long list of issues to consider when it comes to using cameras to enforce traffic laws graphically illustrates why no one should be quick to jump on this idea and why it bears much more scrutiny than has been offered to date.

His list of subjects for a legislative study committee includes:

  • A private company's involvement in enforcing traffic laws.
  • Paying a private company based on the number of traffic tickets issued.
  • The implications of a private company paying a state or local government for law enforcement personnel to operate the company's equipment.
  • Whether a state agency or local law enforcement should operate the systems.
  • The accuracy of current camera systems.
  • Whether an officer's review of a photo is sufficient information for determining whether a violation has occurred.
  • Whether officer safety is improved with use of the cameras.
  • Whether the cameras decrease the number of speeding violations.
  • Where and how traffic enforcement camera systems should be used.
  • The legality of mailing citations to alleged violators.
  • If cameras are used, how should the money raised be spent.
  • In all, Davis poses about 20 questions in an amendment to a Senate bill that attempts to stop the cameras' use.

    He's also right that until these very substantive questions are answered, use of the cameras to enforce speeding on Interstate 95 should stop.

    If subsequent study determines that it's a good idea and state law governing their use is on the books, then enforcement with cameras could begin again.

    We note again a Beaufort County lawmaker's interest in what is right now a Jasper County issue, given Ridgeland's sole use of the cameras. And we note again that the principals in iTraffic, the private company working with Ridgeland, live in Beaufort County.

    Davis says his goal is for the legislature to assess the pros and cons of the systems in an objective way and revisit it -- if warranted -- when the legislature convenes next year.

    "The bottom line for me," Davis writes, "is that whenever we are confronted with a new technology that increases the power of government, we must proceed carefully and not authorize the increase until we fully understand the consequences. Americans have, always have had and always should have a strong aversion to increasing government power; that strong bias toward individual liberty is a uniquely American trait, and one that must be respected by legislators."

    State Rep. Shannon Erickson says her bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Bill Herbkersman and Andy Patrick, to allow use of the cameras also is aimed at prompting such a discussion, but she wants to see it happen in the committee process and get done this legislative session.

    Detailed discussion and testimony might result from committee work, but it's just as likely that it won't happen. We don't need anecdotal testimony from either supporters or opponents.

    We're more likely to see substantive information come from a study committee given months, rather than weeks, to look at the issues Davis raises.

    Erickson's worry that study committee reports often get put in a drawer and ignored is something she and her fellow lawmakers can control.

    Those who support the cameras' use should welcome the scrutiny and the opportunity to make their case.