Ridgeland Mayor Hodges defends, explains I-95 traffic camera ticketing

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There's been a lot of todo about Ridgeland's new "super speeder" program that aims to nab those flying down Interstate 95 near the town at excessive speeds. 

Much of that todo has focused on whether or not the program is legal and if its not just a ploy to rake in the cash by issuing tickets in an easy, quick fashion.

Well Ridgeland Mayor Gary W. Hodges is calling those accusations bunk and explaining why they're doing it and why they think it's legal.

His letter is pasted below:

There have been comments coming from across our great state concerning the reasoning and validity behind Ridgeland's "super speeder" traffic enforcement program.  I think it is appropriate for my constituents as well as the public at large to understand the motivation of our governing body in regards to implementing what will become a very effective traffic safety program.

I take my responsibilities as Mayor very seriously and along with the four members of the Ridgeland Town Council, we are committed to public safety.  Law enforcement is our main priority--we must make Ridgeland a safe place to live, work and visit.

Anyone traveling along I-95 will see thousands of vehicles exceeding the posted speed limit.  Many of these are excessively speeding well over 80 mph and even 90 mph while weaving in and out the traffic flow and, therefore, endangering our most precious commodity--our loved ones.  On any given day over 50,000 vehicles travel through Ridgeland.  This problem is very serious and, based on our surveys, more than 1,000 per day are excessively speeding over 80 mph. 

Why do we care so much about speed enforcement?  In 2008, we had three fatalities.  In 2009, we had three fatalities.  In the first seven months of 2010, we have had five fatalities.  All these occurred on I-95 within the town limits and frankly speaking, five fatalities this year is five fatalities too many.  Each one of these individuals left behind family members who needed them, cared for them and loved them.  And, the sad thing is that each fatality was a senseless tragedy that could have been prevented.

Our last fatality was in July.  A 33 year old lady was traveling north on I-95 with her 13 year old son.  She was excessively speeding, lost control of her vehicle, crossed over into the median and struck a tree.  This is clearly a tragedy because the young lady died as a result of this accident.  We are thankful that her young son survived, however, it breaks our hearts to know that she will not attend his graduation or wedding, and that she will never hold her grandchildren.

Both public safety experts and common sense tells us that "consistent publicized enforcement" of traffic laws WILL positively change driver behavior and save lives.  The City of Chattanooga, TN implemented an automated speed enforcement program on the dangerous Hixson Pike three years ago.  Mr. John Van Winkle, the City Traffic Engineer, stated last month that since implementing the program, the speed rate has been significantly reduced and there have been NO fatalities.

We consulted with law enforcement officials and legal experts over many months and we also researched other speed enforcement programs throughout the country and abroad.  We worked diligently to educate ourselves on this subject and to determine if we could achieve similar success on I-95.  Studies showed that the average speed for the targeted "super speeders" declined 10 mph; accidents and fatalities were reduced usually by 50% or more; and, in some cases such as the City of Chattanooga, the number of fatalities dropped to zero.

Since the South Carolina legislature has not permitted unmanned cameras to ticket speeding vehicles, we followed the advice of both law enforcement officials and legal experts to design a program that operates in accordance with existing state laws.  Our program is different from the standard automated enforcement programs that rely "solely on photographic evidence" and here's why:

    -A Ridgeland police officer is present and observes each speeding violation as it occurs.

    -The officer operates the radar which detects and records the speed violation.

     -The photographic equipment, as with other traffic violations such as DUI, records "additional" evidence of the violation.

We understand that mailing a traffic ticket is not the standard practice, however, using the U.S. Mail is supported by case law.  The Department of Motor Vehicles permits the suspension of a drivers license by mail.  Subpoenas are sent by mail.  Multi-million dollar law suits are processed by mail and the list goes on and on.  If it is not permissible for justice to be administered via the U.S. Mail,  then South Carolina's legal system would shut down.

Providing our police officers with the best available equipment insures that we protect them while they protect us.   If we allow our state to continue down the path of cutting law enforcement it will put our public safety officials and citizens in harm's way.  Ridgeland will not accept this trend--we are up to the challenge--and we are doing something about the problem. 

Our I-95 traffic enforcement program WILL reduce injuries and save lives.  If we can successfully save even one life by using modern technology to enforce "existing" public safety laws, we will have served our citizens, employees and visitors well. Please help us help you. I pray that you will NEVER receive a phone call from one of our police officers and the first words you hear are:  I regret to inform you.............   And, that, my friends is what really matters.

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