Friday, February 3, 2023

Controversial red-light camera system back on City Council agenda for another extension

The intersection of 17th and Dawson streets, where Wilmington resident Todd Platzer got his red-light camera ticket. Platzer is suing the engineer, Pamela Alexander, who approved the yellow light timing -- Platzer argues that Alexander is part of a 50-year problem. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
The intersection of 17th and Dawson streets. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON — The City of Wilmington’s controversial red-light camera program is once again up for renewal despite a ruling from the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCBELS) claiming the cameras were in violation of state law.

Related: Engineering board rules Wilmington’s red-light cameras installed in violation of state law

The camera system, provided by American Traffic Solutions (ATS), will cost approximately $480,000 annually. There are 13 different locations across the city where these cameras are placed — they are unidirectional so only take photos of one of the four approaches at a traffic light.

Citations accrued by those accused of running a red light are $50 and are mailed to the registration address attached to the vehicle’s license plate.

The cameras are permitted by the state, however, 90 percent of the revenue generated by the citations must be given to local school systems.

“The program collects approximately $1,000,000 in fines annually and in accordance with the State Constitution, 90% or approximately $900,000 is paid to the New Hanover County School Board,” according to the City Council agenda.

Legal questions

The cameras are not without their flaws and plenty of people have challenged their legality.

What happens if someone else is driving a car that does not belong to them and a ticket is sent out? Well, the owner of the vehicle must prove they were not driving the car.

“The owner is responsible for returning the citation to the SafeLight Program with information regarding who was driving the vehicle (name, number, address). If the car had been reported stolen at the time of the violation, the owner must submit a copy of the filed police report. Instructions for transferring the responsibility for the citation is listed on the back of the citation,” according to the City of Wilmington’s SafeLight page.

In the past, some drivers have been able to appeal citations and get refunds, while others have not.

Related: Questions for Wilmington’s red-light camera program after North Carolina lawsuit

Last year NCBELS ruled the cameras had been installed in violation of state law since they were not installed by a licensed engineer.

According to a letter from the group to the City of Wilmington, “At its regular meeting on November 28, 2018, the Board concurred with the recommendation of the Review Committee, which was to place American Traffic Solutions, lnc. on notice that practicing, or offering to practice, engineering in North Carolina without being properly licensed with the Board, is a violation of G.S. 89C-23 and that practicing, or offering to practice, engineering and surveying in North Carolina, as defined in G.S. 89C-3(6) & (7), without being licensed with this Board is a violation of G.S. 89C-24 and 558.”

Enforcing the citations issued is another hurdle the city has to face since they are not criminal citations and warrants cannot be issued for failure to pay. The city could, in theory, take someone to small claims court if enough tickets were accrued.

The city could also utilize ‘debt set-off’ which sends outstanding citations to the state Internal Revenue Service who then can add citations and late fees to individual taxes, according to Traffic Engineer Don Bennett.

No plans to stop

Despite the ruling, the City of Wilmington showed no intention of stopping the money-making operation.

Deputy City Attorney Meredith Everhart said Wilmington’s red-light camera program would not be interrupted by NCBELS finding.

”The state board ruling was in response to a concern that the poles the cameras are attached to were placed into the ground-based on plans that did not have the required professional engineer/land surveyor seals,” Everhart said in a previous article from Port City Daily. “The decision had nothing to do with the legality or operation of the cameras themselves.”

Bennett noted in a previous interview that the city would work to make sure the cameras were properly certified by a licensed engineer.

The locations

  • Eastbound Market Street at New Centre Drive
  • Westbound Market Street at 23rd Street
  • Southbound Wooster Street at Third Street
  • Northbound Seventeenth Street at Dawson Street
  • Eastbound Dawson Street at Third Street
  • Westbound Wooster Street at Seventeenth Street
  • Northbound College Road at 17th Street
  • Eastbound Dawson Street at Sixteenth Street
  • Westbound Wrightsville Ave at Colonial Drive
  • Southbound Sixteenth Street at Wooster Street
  • Northbound Carolina Beach Road at Southern Boulevard
  • Westbound Market Street at Seventeenth Street
  • Northbound Third Street at Dawson Street

 

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