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County testing red-light camera

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

In the less than two weeks -- since the county police put cameras at the intersection of Mt. Zion Road and Mt. Zion Boulevard -- more than 500 cars have been viewed running red lights.

In about two weeks from now, the owner of any vehicle caught on camera running the same red light will be receiving a $70 ticket in the mail.

Though currently in testing and warning phase, the county plans to start using the red light camera on Nov. 20. It's the Clayton County Police Department's first attempt to use the mechanical, online devise to improve traffic and safety.

Maj. Chris Butler said the yellow light, at that intersection, lasts about 3.65 seconds. Vehicles tend to run through the intersection one or two seconds after the light turns red.

"There's plenty of time for someone to stop, if they're traveling the appropriate speed," Butler said. "But when [people] can't see a police officer there, they tend to do what they want to do."

The intersection, at the east end of Morrow's shopping district, has always been a traffic problem, Butler said. Butler said the illegal move is often done in an attempt to turn toward the interstate on-ramp, and mostly on Thursdays and Fridays, as the weekend nears.

"Most of those problems," the major said, "are obstruction in the flow of traffic. They're turning toward the interstate there, and they have the tendency to block the entire intersection ... They're running that red light. If they would stop, everyone would be happier."

Running red lights cause traffic congestion, and causes drivers to become more frustrated at the intersection, increasing their tendencies to run the light, Butler said.

The practice is also dangerous, he said. According to police statistics, most accidents in the county are caused by abrupt stops, and by motorists running red lights.

The combination of dangerous traffic and traffic congestion made the Mt. Zion/Mt. Zion intersection a prime location for traffic cameras.

"It's a blend of both," Butler said. "We're here to try to make the intersections safer."

Used in many other cities, including Atlanta, the red light cameras have been criticized by some as a revenue-generating tactic that has little to do with safety.

Butler said the department's decision had nothing to do with the tickets, and everything to do with making people stop running through the intersection.

"Revenue is the last thing on our minds," he said. "There are signs, when you come into the county, saying there are red-light cameras. There are signs there, every way you approach, that say, 'This is a red light camera intersection.' There's no covert action. It's all overt action."

The county police are looking at adding another red-light camera, early next year, at the intersection of Tara Boulevard and Riverdale Road. If erected, the camera would be the fifth monitored intersection in the county.

Riverdale Police currently operate a camera at Church Street and Bethsaida Road. Morrow Police are working on putting cameras in two places -- the intersection of Jonesboro Road and Morrow Road, and the intersection of Jonesboro Road and Mt. Zion Road.