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North Carolina: Another Red Light Camera Program Falls
Cary, North Carolina likely to join the growing number of municipalities dropping red light cameras.

Benjamin T. Shivar
Red light cameras are becoming scarce in North Carolina. On Thursday the town of Cary's operations committee will consider becoming the next jurisdiction to pull the plug on automated ticketing machines, leaving just four photo enforcement programs in the state.

"For a variety of reasons, including questions or concerns about the enabling legislation for the program, recent engineering modifications at intersections to improve safety, significant increases in staff time to address system problems and associated citizen complaints and recent concerns over improper ticketing of legal left turns, staff recommends the program be discontinued," Town Manager Benjamin T. Shivar wrote in a memo to the town council.

Eight years ago, Cary handed Redflex Traffic Systems the right to issue traffic tickets at its intersections. Back then, cameras were wildly popular with municipalities that saw them as an important way to ease budgetary problems. That all changed in 2007 when the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld a decision directing all red light camera revenue to the state school system (read final opinion). That meant cities would have to pay their private contractors to run this safety program, and cities were not interested in doing so. Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greenville, Greensboro, High Point and Rocky Mount all shut down in the wake of the ruling.

Cary believed a state law exempted municipalities in Wake County from following the state constitution's requirement that the "clear proceeds" of all fines be sent to the schools. Instead, Cary cut its check to the schools after Redflex took its substantial cut. Under the contract approved in 2009, the Australian company would keep the first $90,000 worth of tickets issued each month. After that, it would pocket $30 of each $50 citation the company dropped in the mail. Since the beginning, Redflex has pocketed $6 million from motorists in Cary while Wake County Public Schools collected just $646,366.

Cary staff members are now worried about the uncertain legal footing for the cameras, especially since the state Senate passed legislation to outlaw the use of red light cameras. Cary has also improved safety by increasing the "all red" period at intersections and synchronizing the lights on Walnut Street. Perhaps the most striking problem identified is the number of innocent motorists ticketed under the program.

"Finally, a recent citizen complaint to a local media outlet brought to light erroneous violation notices issued to citizens for vehicles making a left turn at the protected permitted left turn signal at Cary Parkway and High House Road," Shivar wrote. "The camera improperly ticketed some legal left turns. Shortly thereafter, the town instructed the contractor to cease issuing violation notices for left-turning vehicles."

The town council will have the final say on whether to terminate its contract with Redflex.

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