Officials cautious on speed cameras

COLUMBIA --- House lawmakers are likely to take a particularly nuanced approach to the issue of traffic speed cameras.

 

On Thursday, the South Carolina Senate voted unanimously to ban the devices. The body must give a largely perfunctory third reading before the legislation can clear the chamber.

The bill, S. 336, introduced by Sen. Larry Grooms, a Republican representing Berkeley and Charleston counties, prohibits the town of Ridgeland from operating its manned system on its stretch of Interstate 95 in Jasper County. Senators also attached an amendment by Sen. Tom Davis to create a study commission on the camera system, which is not in use anywhere else in the state.

The debate began this session after lawmakers learned that Ridgeland continued to operate its system despite a new law aimed at halting it. A federal class-action suit has been filed on behalf of those ticketed.

"I don't necessarily believe that it should be in the hands of municipalities," said Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island, during a meeting with local businesspeople this week. He suggested the state Department of Public Safety or the Highway Patrol should be in charge, if the system is to be deployed at all.

Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, who sponsored legislation to allow the cameras, said the issue was addressed too quickly before and she hopes to encourage a more thorough look.

"I would not say that I'm in support of the cameras," Erickson said. "I'm in support of having the debate."

Bluffton Rep. Bill Herbkersman said the decline in fatalities in the wake of the camera system should factor into upcoming talks.

In the seven months before the camera system began in August, town data show the average monthly total crashes was 7.86 and the average monthly fatality rate was 0.71. In the first five months of operation, the average monthly total crashes was 5.8 and there were no fatalities.

But opponents of the town's system say it creates a speed trap and fails to stop the speeding activity, among other problems. Supporters say the system makes the stretch of I-95 safer and helps the town defray public safety expenses related to accidents.

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