Speeders Beware !
Beware speeders! It was no joke when automated enforcement camera systems were installed at Vidalia school zones in an effort to slow down motorists. Since August, 7,499 tickets (as of Monday, November 2) have gone out to those clocked at least 11 miles over the speed limit, said Vidalia Police Commissioner Brian Scott. This number has increased by over 500 tickets since last week.
The automated enforcement has kicked up a little local controversy, but Scott said the police department has made a concerted effort to inform citizens about the system. Detailed information is listed on the VPD Facebook page and covers topics ranging from how the system works to what do if a ticket arrives. (See box accompanying this article.) Scott said the citations are not regular tickets issued by police but by the state with fines being paid through a continued from page
third party. A percentage of the fine is paid to a third party administrator, but the remainder of the fine goes into city coffers to be used specifically for law enforcement purposes.
City Financial Director Bill Bedingfield said the latest tallies available for the month of September show 351 fines were paid (first and repeat violations) bringing the city’s gross proceeds from the tickets to $26,425.00. The service fee paid to the third party administrator for maintenance of the equipment and processing of the tickets amounted to $8,720.25. The license plate reading fee was $528.20. The city’s net proceeds were $17,176.25. By law, all of these proceeds must go into public safety programs.
“This helps hold down property taxes because we would have to hire and pay additional police to enforce violations in the speed zone to offset the job the equipment is doing,” Bedingfield said.
Vidalia City Manager Nick Overstreet said the City Council approved setting up the automated enforcement in February 2019 and the public was provided a 30-day grace period at each school zone prior to the issuing of tickets. “We have had a few calls from people. Some of them have been favorable with citizens saying they were glad we are enforcing the speed limit in school zones for the children’s safety. But we have had more negative calls than positive. We have put the information out there so people can see the rules,” he said. Overstreet said that since the automated speed zones were activated some surprising infractions have occurred. “We had one person going 104 miles per hour in front of J.R. Trippe during school hours. I know of one person who got four warnings followed by 11 tickets.” The city has even had some of its own employees get tickets from speeding in the school zones. “They have to pay the fines,” he said. The VPD reviews each citation and persons who feel they have received a ticket unjustly have the right to request their day in traffic court in Vidalia.
Asked about whether the speeders might get a break in these austere times, Bedingfield noted the city has already given taxpayers a break with water and sewer bills, but speeding and the safety of children is another matter. “There was a grace period before the tickets were issued. Before the automated system went in, there were speed limits and flashing signs in the school zones. Did people think these were just suggestions?”
The margin for error with the automated machines is very low since they are accurate within .1 mile per hour, Commissioner Scott said. The radar is maintained and calibrated on a regular basis. Those who receive tickets can go online and view the actual video of the violation, and still photos are also accessible.
Scott said 3,945 warnings were issued for 30 days prior continued from page
to tickets being issued. The tickets are civil, not criminal. If the tickets go unpaid, the infraction will not affect a driver’s license but will affect the vehicle owner’s ability to buy a tag or transfer a vehicle title.
For Bob Webster, owner of Webster Motors in Vidalia, the tickets are certainly no joke. He has already received several tickets in the mail and at $75 a clip and the fines are mounting up. Webster owns a fleet of about 50 rental cars, and as the titleholder for these vehicles, his company is responsible for paying the fines. A number of customers have incurred tickets, as well as several of the company’s hired drivers.
Webster said he has had to approach his customers to recoup the money he has paid in fines and so far, and most of them have been cooperative. As for his drivers, Webster said he has paid the first fines incurred but warned the drivers they will have to bear the burden in the future.
“We have a lot of different fines come in on a regular basis for tolls and so forth because we have a lot of people using our vehicles who drive outside the area,” Webster said. But those fines are usually not as steep as the $75-$125 fine from the Vidalia school zones.
“I am not the kind of person to make excuses. If you are speeding and get caught, you pay the fine,” he said, allowing that he certainly supports safe driving, especially in school zones. “People get distracted and speed, but if you get a couple of tickets, you are more likely to slow down. I just tell my drivers not to go through school zones in the first place.” Asked how he will cope going forward, Webster sighed and said, “Just pray.”