Traffic camera debate moves to special panel

Lawmakers finally drove home the message that Ridgeland's traffic camera system was unwelcome on Interstate 95.

Town officials said they would dismantle the system of cameras monitored remotely by a police officer after Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill into law Friday.

A long list of problems plagued this venture, starting with the town and the system's private operator, iTraffic, setting it up to circumvent a law passed last year that clearly intended to ban the practice, a law backed up by a state attorney general's opinion.

Most notable was that a private company enjoyed direct financial gain from the tickets issued.

Tickets also were mailed to offenders well after the fact; speeders continued down the highway unhindered. Only drivers identified as owners of the vehicle were ticketed.

But Haley's signing the bill into law isn't the end of the issue. In a provision drafted by state Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort, the new law calls for a special commission to study in-depth enforcement of traffic laws using cameras. Its work is to be finished by Nov. 1 unless the legislature grants an extension.

Commission members will be appointed by the governor, the chief justice of he state Supreme Court, the Senate president, the House speaker, the attorney general, the directors of the departments of Public Safety and Parks, Recreation and Tourism, leaders of the Senate Transportation and House Public Works committees, the S.C. Sheriff's Association, the S.C. Bar Association, the S.C. Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the S.C. Law Enforcement Officers Association.

That's a well-rounded group. And the issues its members are to address are well-rounded, too.

They include criteria for using traffic enforcement camera systems; the positives and negatives of involving a private company in enforcing traffic laws; whether there is a conflict of interest when a private company is paid a commission based on the number of traffic tickets issued; whether a statewide agency should be solely authorized to operate such a system; the accuracy of the systems; safety issues related to camera use; and constitutional issues raised by this method of enforcement.

In all, the group is to look at 20 different aspects of this type of enforcement.

Ridgeland and iTraffic officials lament the shutdown of their operation, but they have a chance to make their case for traffic camera enforcement and help shape responsible statewide policy through this commission's work.