The 411 on the traffic cameras
Published 4:33 pm Friday, August 4, 2023
City Council received an in-depth presentation on the new traffic enforcement cameras activated earlier with more than 12,000 citations issued.
At the Wednesday, Aug. 2 meeting Director of Public Works Robert Lewis and Chief of Police Alfred S. Chandler Jr. said their presentation was aimed at answering citizen questions and providing clarity to misconceptions about the cameras, along with details on areas covered by cameras, civil penalties for violations and how data from them is used.
“Certainly this is a topic that has been widely discussed in our city in the last number of weeks, which actually is one of the goals of this program to make people aware of highway safety,” Lewis told council.
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He said the new traffic enforcement system led to 35,636 warnings being issued and mailed from May 15 to June 15. Following this, 12,819 citations were issued and mailed from June 15 to July 15..
Lewis provided statistics that point to the public safety needs that led to the decision to go with camera enforcement.
During 2022, Lewis said running red lights caused more than 7,500 vehicle crashes, at least 25 fatalities and more than 1,862 injuries. There were 1,390 pedestrian injuries with 171 pedestrian deaths due to running traffic signals, which included three deaths of 146 injuries of children under age 14.
In 2021, work zone crashes caused 1,861 injuries and 28 fatalities, a 41% increase compared to 2020.
Camera photo enforcement
Seven initial sites have been selected to begin deployment of traffic enforcement cameras along city highways, Lewis said. At this time, however, these remain under construction and are not currently active.
The seven locations are:
- Holland Road at West End of Suffolk Bypass
- Harbour View Blvd. at Bridge Road
- College Drive at Bridge Road
- North Main Street at West Constance Road
- Pruden Boulevard at Lake Prince Drive
- Shoulders Hill Road at Bridge Road (after roadway project construction)
- Holland Road at Kenyon Road (after roadway project construction)
The city has the option to add two additional sites, Lewis told council.
The system that will be used by the city includes state of the art camera systems, he said with the required signage posted at each intersection. Sworn Suffolk officers must inspect, verify and affirm any potential violations before they are issued.
“We can only have one of these per 10,000 residents so at this point in time, the city is only limited to only nine of these locations throughout the city,” Lewis said.
To use camera enforcement, Council enacted an ordinance in March allowing their installation and use.
“Locations have been selected for these traffic studies to be performed,” he explained. “The clearance intervals must conform to national standards.”
He said the private entities may own and operate a system, but their compensation cannot be tied to how many citations are generated.
Currently, the only traffic enforcement cameras activated are in school and work zones.
School zone, bus enforcement
Camera systems also will be used for school zones and buses, with them either mounted on the roadside or school bus “stop” arm. Signage must be posted at school locations, but no signage is required on buses.
These violations are issued if the vehicle is at least 10 miles per hour above the posted school zone speed limit or passing a stopped bus with its warning lights activated.
Initial deployment of traffic cameras is set for 15 schools, with 11 constructed and active. Those violating the speed limit in these zones now receive a warning letter in the mail instead of a citation. After the start of the regular school year, all listed schools will become active enforcement zones.
These zones are at Creekside Elementary, Elephant’s Fork Elementary, Florence, Bowser Elementary, John Yeates Middle, Kings Fork Middle, Kings Fork High, Nansemond Suffolk Academy at both the Pruden and Harbour View campuses, Nansemond Parkway Elementary, Mack Benn Jr. Elementary and Oakland Elementary.
Work zone enforcement
Work zones camera enforcement areas also have the signage requirement.
Lewis said they are portable and can shift while construction is underway.
Additional sites will be added as issues of speeding arise.
Civil penalties for violations
Based on the type of violation, fines for violations differ, Lewis said.
Here is how ticketing breaks down:
- Red light speeding violations, $50
- Work zone violations, $100 fine.
- School zone speeding violations, $100
- School bus stop-arm violations, $250 ticket.
Lewis noted that no DMV points are incurred and all funds received from tickets will be used for highway safety projects.
Use of data
Chandler said the data captured through camera enforcement is used only to issue citations. Information from the cameras is not imported into any police department database and is held in a separate, vendor-maintained program.
Camera event/incident images and video is held for 60 days after the collection of any civil penalty, Chandler said.
“If you receive one of these in the mail, once you make the payment, once 60 days has elapsed after you have made your payment, then that information will be extracted from the system,” he said.
Videos recorded 24/7 are held for two years, while non-image data will be held for five years after the end of contract, Chandler explained. The device calibration records will be retained indefinitely.
The information to contest a ticket or pay the fine is on the notice, he said.
To contest a ticket, citizens can find the instructions on the back of the notice that arrives in the mail. To avoid concerns of possible scams, Chandler said the payment processing company is located in Baltimore, Maryland.
“I am elated that traffic and speed is a major conversation in the City of Suffolk,” Chandler said. “We need to be talking about it because the truth of the matter is this makes us safer.”
For information on traffic enforcement cameras, visit suffolkva.us/trafficenforcement.
Lewis said the 2007 law that allows use of photo-enforcement at traffic lights is under Virginia code section 15.2-968.1. In 2020, state lawmakers enacted code section 46.2-882.1 allowing photo speed monitoring device use in highway work zones and school crossing zones.