LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — A bill in the legislature could gut the effectiveness of cameras designed to slow traffic around school buses and school zones across Georgia.
HB301 would drastically reduce the amount of money drivers would pay if they’re caught.
Gwinnett County boasts it has speed cameras at a half dozen schools – the result of a state law that is still controversial in some quarters. In one year, cameras outside just three public schools produced more than 25,000 automatically-generated citations.
Those caught pay fines and they pay fees to the private companies that install and monitor the cameras. Outside Winn Holt Elementary School, resident David Thompson says they seem to work.
"It’s slower than it was," he said Thursday, gesturing toward Old Snellville Highway, where signs warn motorists of the high-tech speed trap.
But state Rep. Jason Ridley (R-Chatsworth) says those caught are paying too much.
"They’re there for safety and you can still use them for that. But we’re not going to let you tax or fee our citizens to death on something like that – even after they’ve had the fine," Ridley said.
When caught on camera, illegally passing a school bus can bring a civil penalty of $250, including fees. Ridley’s bill would change that to $10 with no fees.
Illegally speeding through a school zone can bring a civil penalty including fees of $75 now. Ridley’s bill would drop that to $10 with a $2 fee for the first offense.
"You still get the fine. But you don’t get the fees," Ridley said.
Speed cameras in Georgia captured the footage of a school crossing guard in Austell, Edna Umeh, was struck and killed by what witnesses described as a reckless driver in a school zone.
Since then, speed cameras in Gwinnett and Clayton Counties have reported catching motorists driving up to 92 miles an hour in school zones.
Backers of the camera like Bob Dallas, former director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, say the cameras are working and the penalties should not be decreased.
"In Georgia we have had kids killed, crossing guards killed in school zones. And by putting these programs in place, people slow down," said Dallas, who now lobbies on behalf of companies that deliver and maintain speed cameras.
Gwinnett County is among the school systems sold on the camera enforcement system. The school system recently doubled the number of schools with stationary speed enforcement cameras.