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Dalton, Georgia Dumps Red Light Cameras
Dalton adds itself to list of Georgia dumping cities in wake of law forcing longer yellow times.

Dalton City Council, 4/6/09Another Georgia red light camera program has fallen thanks to a state-mandated extension in the duration of the yellow warning period at monitored intersections. Members of the Dalton City Council yesterday voted unanimously to cancel its contract with the UK-owned photo ticketing firm LaserCraft Inc. which has been operating the traffic cameras on a month-to-month basis since May.

"Thus far it appears the increase in yellow time has resulted in a significant decrease in violations," Dalton Police Chief Jason Parker told the city council yesterday.

The program issued a total of 6,487 tickets worth $454,090 in 2008, but the rules changed in January when a law originally introduced by state Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville) mandated the addition of one second to the yellow warning at any intersections where cameras were installed (view law). Data obtained by TheNewspaper show that this change yielded immediate results at the intersections of Highway 41 and Shugart Road and at Thornton Avenue and Waugh Street. In 2008, LaserCraft issued an average of 639 citations each month at these locations before the extra second was added. After the change was made, the company was only able to issue 200 tickets (view chart).

Even these figures mask the real impact. At Shugart Road, the drop in citations was 73 percent, primarily representing straight-through violations. At Waugh, violations dropped only 43 percent but Mayor David Pennington explained that this was because two-thirds of the tickets issued at the intersection were actually for rolling right-hand turns on red, a highly technical violation that rarely causes accidents. After reviewing the results, Councilman Charlie Bethel urged staff to ensure the Georgia Department of Transportation would maintain the extended yellow timing once the cameras were removed.

"Maybe for once our state elected officials were very wise in passing this bill," Councilman Denise Wood added.

Use of the cameras produced no measurable reductions in accidents, according to city officials. The drop in violations, however, meant that the program would have turned into a significant money-loser had it continued to operate. Faced with the same situation, the cities of Decatur, Duluth, Lilburn, Norcross, Rome, Snellville and Suwanee have also taken steps to end photo enforcement in the aftermath of the new signal timing law. Dalton began photo ticketing in 2005 after being sold on the program by Jay Morris Specter, 53, who at the time was a regional director for an Australian red light camera firm. Specter was convicted of fraud in 2007 and is currently imprisoned at the Edgefield Federal Correctional Institution in South Carolina.