“People know where they are, the complaints about them are down,” Tumlin said of the cameras. “It means they’re not pushing the yellow light.”
And that, Tumlin said, means drivers are being safer at the three intersections.
“The main safety concern is not the fender-bender, it’s the T-bone, where somebody runs the light and runs into the side of the car,” he said.
The city’s first red-light camera was installed at Cobb Parkway and Windy Hill Road in 2004. A second was added a year later at Cobb Parkway and Allgood Road, while the third camera went up in 2008 at the intersection of South Marietta Parkway and Powder Springs Street.
In 2011, the city mailed 9,241 citations, at $70 each, for red light violations at Cobb Parkway and Windy Hill; 2,755 for Cobb Parkway and Allgood violations and 2,323 tickets for violations at South Marietta Parkway and Powder Springs, said Shannon Barrett, assistant to the city manager. The $863,000 in revenue brought in by the tickets was reduced by the $408,000 the county pays to American Traffic Solutions. The city contracted with the Tempe, Ariz., company in 2009 to monitor the intersections and process the citations through June 2014.
Barrett said a city police officer verifies each citation before it is sent to a driver. The tickets are considered civil violations and do not count against a driver’s insurance rate.
Money raised from the red-light cameras goes toward the city’s general fund, helping cover the operations of all city services, Barrett said.
The cameras still attract criticism. Attorney and former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, a Republican from Marietta, has spoken against red-light cameras nationally for years, calling them more of a way to get revenue than to improve safety.
“My views have not changed,” Barr said this week. “In my view, it’s all about money. The ‘safety’ results in jurisdictions where they have them are mixed. There is still far too little attention paid to the privacy and legal aspects.”
But Barrett argues that the cameras do make roads safer. She said that in 2011, there were 82 accidents at the Cobb Parkway-Windy Hill intersection, a 29 percent decrease from the 116 accidents the year before the camera was installed. She added that the intersection hasn’t seen any fatal accidents since 2004.
Barrett said there were 42 accidents at Cobb Parkway and Allgood Road in 2011, a 46 percent decrease from 78 the year before the cameras were installed there, while the South Loop-Powder Springs intersection saw 62 accidents in 2011, a 16 percent drop from the 72 the year before the camera was installed.
She said the “halo effect” is also reducing accidents at nearby intersections because the mere presence of the cameras at other intersections is causing drivers to be more cautious.
“It changes drivers’ driving patterns,” she said. “It changes their behavior.”
While revenue is down from 2005, when the Cobb Parkway-Windy Hill cameras alone brought in $1.82 million, Tumlin said that is actually a good thing.
“It obviously generates money, but the purpose was safety,” he said. “We want every dime we can get, but we don’t want people running red lights.”
Windy Hill and Cobb Parkway was chosen as the first intersection in Cobb to get a camera after a State Farm Insurance Co. survey determined it to be the most dangerous intersection in Georgia in 1998, with 172 wrecks. Barrett said it was also considered the sixth most dangerous in the country.
Before the Marietta City Council approved the South Marietta Parkway-Powder Springs Street red-light camera in 2008, several other intersections were considered for cameras. But the city eventually decided against placing cameras at the Cobb Parkway-Roswell Road, Bellemeade Drive-Powder Springs Street, South Loop-Franklin Road and Cobb Parkway-Industrial Park Drive intersections.
Since 2008, Tumlin said the city hasn’t seriously considered placing red-light cameras at those or other intersections.
“The three we chose had the evidence that there was a safety problem,” Tumlin said. “The others, I do not think they have the same safety problems.”