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Camera catches 1,120 red-light runners weekly

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

In its first five weeks of operation, a county traffic camera captured about 5,600 cars running a red light.

According to Clayton County Police Department statistics, an average of 1,120 cars ran through a red light at the intersection of Mt. Zion Road and Mt. Zion Boulevard between Thanksgiving and the beginning of January.

"That number should drop off when people start getting tickets," Police Chief Jeff Turner said.

The owner of each vehicle that ran the light will get a citation in the mail and face a $70 traffic fine.

"We want to reduce accidents and save lives," the chief said.

The camera works, according to a brochure being passed out at department headquarters, by taking three pictures while the light is red. First, the camera captures the vehicle before the white line, where it should be stopped while the light is red. Second, the camera zooms in on the license plate, and takes a close-up. Third, the camera captures an image of the vehicle passing through the intersection, while the light is red.

All the photographs are reviewed by an officer, before tickets are mailed out.

The traffic camera was placed on the corner, east of Morrow's shopping district, because the county identified it as one of the worst intersections for red-light running, according to Maj. Chris Butler. The intersection receives heavy traffic -- especially on Thursday and Friday afternoons and evenings -- and when traffic begins to back up, drivers start ignoring the light and entering the intersection in an attempt to make their turn.

The aggressive maneuver, besides being illegal, is considered dangerous because most accidents occur in intersections, county statistics show. The maneuver also worsens traffic, and the intersection has been known for traffic gnarls, Butler said.

"They're running the red light," the major said, when the county was testing the cameras in November. "If they would stop, everyone would be happier."

Police posted signs, at the intersection, alerting drivers to the traffic cameras. At least 5,600 cars ignored the signs, however.

The department has added additional red light cameras, now, at the intersection of Tara Boulevard and Upper Riverdale Road.

Morrow Police brought up two red light cameras on Jan. 4, and even though they have seen fewer violations than the county, some of the red light runners shocked Chief Jeff Baker, he said.

"I saw the same individual running two separate red lights on the same day," the Morrow chief said. "We're getting some pretty serious violations through there."

The city's camera captures the intersections of Lake Harbin Road and Ga. Highway 54, and Mt. Zion Road and Hwy. 54.

Since the city started its 30-day trial period, between 30 and 35 vehicles have been photographed running the red light each day. Baker said he hopes that number drops off significantly, even maybe falling to nothing. Until then, he is encouraging everyone to stop at red lights, and not rush into any intersections.

"You should always hesitate before you take off, when the light turns green," he said. "There are a lot of people running these red lights."