Nearly 1/3 of city's traffic camera tickets unpaid; court battle - FOX 8, WVUE, fox8live.com, weather, app, news, saints

Nearly 1/3 of city's traffic camera tickets unpaid; court battle looms

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

More than one in three of the drivers who are caught on camera breaking New Orleans' traffic laws are not paying their tickets. 

From 2012-2015, the system, which is operated by American Traffic Solutions out of Arizona, issued 843,366 tickets. Currently, 298,428 of those tickets are classified as outstanding. 

Attorney Byron Forrest, who represents citizens suing the city and the camera company, wants those violations thrown out.  

"It's kind of a double-edged sword. That is revenue for the city. We do look at that, and we are aware of that," Forest said. "But you've got to do it right. If those tickets get tossed out, great. How about the tickets that were given out? Should those be refunded? These are tough questions." 

Since 2012, the city has collected about $15 million a year from the system. But forest believes certain aspects make the traffic cameras illegal.

Forest claims from 2007-2012 the cameras were illegal installed without approval from state legislators, and he questions several current practices used by camera operators.   

"Don't target specific neighborhoods," he said. "Have cameras that face the intersection so that you can see the driver or identify the driver or at least have a better chance at identifying the driver. There's all kinds of different solutions here."  

Despite the attorney's concerns and the legal battle ahead, Mayor Mitch Landrieu plans to install more cameras. At this time, there are 66 cameras to catch drivers speeding, running red lights and committing school zone infractions, and 56 more cameras are on the way. 

"If you don't run a red light, you're not going to get a ticket. If you don't speed in a school zone, you're not going to get a ticket, and lives are going to be saved," Landrieu said last week during a news conference on the budget.   

The city estimates it will cost about $3 million to install the new traffic cameras but also estimates the traffic system will collect about $24 million in revenue for the general fund next year. 

The amount of revenue makes opponents of the traffic cameras believe the city is more worried about revenue than it is about safety.  

"They really do not have safety interest at heart. They are really there to make money. It's a taxation by citation," National Motorists Association spokesperson Shelia Dunn said. 

The NMA opposes not only New Orleans' traffic cameras, but traffic cameras across the country.  

"Always and forever fight your ticket," Dunn suggested. "For example, in the Denver area, one-third of the tickets are thrown out before they're even mailed out because you can't tell who the driver is. Should a person that owns a car be cited because someone else is driving a car? No."

But with the New Orleans Police Department's lack of manpower and slow response times, many residents believe more cameras mean safer streets. 

As we interviewed Lois Lacour outside her grandchildren's home in Gentilly, someone tore through a school zone, triggering the system's flash.

"See they just got flashed. I told ya," she screamed. "When they don't have the cameras, they go zoom. They get behind me and get impatient and go around me because I do the speed limit." 

Those who fail to pay their tickets face the possibility of the fine being sent to a collection agency and/or other penalties. 

The first court hearing for New Orleans' camera system's legality is set for the middle of December. 

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