KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The city of Knoxville is being sued by a red light camera vendor in a case that could change the new state law limiting citations for improper right turns on red.
American Traffic Solutions Inc. filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Knox County Chancery Court. The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company provided the equipment for the city’s red-light cameras in Knoxville.
A state law that took effect July 1 bars cities with the cameras from issuing right-turn-on-red citations if the only evidence comes from traffic camera video. Sponsors of the measure, which also sets new restrictions on how local governments set up and use speeding cameras, said a camera couldn’t distinguish between truly illegal turns and drivers who nose into the intersection to see if it is safe to turn.
This lawsuit from ATS seeks to overturn the new law or to exempt about 20 cities that had contracts with traffic camera companies when the law took effect.
Under the contract with Knoxville, ATS is paid $40 out of every $50 fine for right-turn-on-red violations, up to $4,500 per camera per month, according to The Knoxville News-Sentinel (http://bit.ly/vJAgpC). For any revenue over $4,500, the company’s share is 50 percent.
ATS also has contracts with Huntingdon and Bluff City, whose speeding cameras were often cited by lawmakers as examples of why they supported the measure that eliminates using traffic cameras as speed traps and reduces private vendors’ influence over where they are located.
Knoxville has seen citations from its 14 cameras drop 90 percent since the new law took effect, going from more than 30,000 violations in August, September and October of 2010 to just over 3,200 for the same period this year, said Knoxville Police Department Capt. Gordon Catlett, who oversees the red-light camera enforcement program for the city.
“The big winners are the people who don’t want to obey the law,” Catlett said. “The big loser is the city of Knoxville, which loses its 50 percent margin.”
The state attorney general’s office issued a nonbinding opinion that the law was constitutional.
In its lawsuit, the vendor notes the city’s decision was not made in bad faith, but has harmed the company. The lawsuit said the new law “irrationally disallows” camera evidence for right turns on red but still allows it to prosecute drivers who run a red light.
Other cities also report a decline in red light camera revenue. Farragut’s citations are down about 50 percent, according to Ben Harkins, traffic enforcement manager for the town.
Knoxville Finance Director Jim York said the city has experienced a significant reduction in revenues since the law was passed