Radar devices, which have become increasingly common over the past decade, have caused outrage among residents of Louisiana cities such as New Orleans and resulted in drivers being subjected to heavy fines.

A new state law has made it much easier to appeal such tickets. It allows drivers to avoid tickets issued by a camera when there is stormy weather or when someone else is driving their car. It also requires school districts to share in the profits when automated surveillance devices are used in school zones. And it severely restricts the use of portable automated surveillance devices.

Police can still pull drivers over for speeding, but if a city or town wants to use portable radar devices that result in a ticket delivered by mail – rather than a face-to-face interview with a police officer – new rules apply.

Although the changes do not quite correspond to the blanket ban on traffic cameras that some MPs called for in the session that ended in June, they weaken an overall tool for enforcing traffic rules that has annoyed drivers for years. Municipalities that depend on the cameras for income may also be forced to find new ways of funding them.

Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, authored Senate Bill 302, which received bipartisan support in the House before the governor signed it in May. He said he supported it despite complaints from constituents and concerns that automated speed enforcement systems are being used to exploit poor Louisianans for income-generating reasons.

“Rural Louisiana is pretty much the poorest area in the country, and these people prey on the poorest of the poor,” Cathey said. “I have no respect for the company that does this, and I'll be honest, I'd like to put them out of business.”

Cathey also raised concerns that automated enforcement violates the right to due process by depriving drivers of the right to face their accuser.

Proponents of automated enforcement say they make roads safer, especially in school zones. In a statement, speed camera provider Blue Line said its programs had reduced speeding in school zones in Shreveport by 95%.

The law could have a significant impact on New Orleans, where $20 million of the city's $1.5 billion annual budget comes from traffic enforcement revenue. Although the city has been allowed to spend traffic enforcement revenue freely for years, it must now share some of its funds with the local school district and spend the rest specifically on drainage improvements, such as clearing clogged catch basins.

In addition, small towns across Louisiana are contracting with private companies to deploy automated surveillance systems.

What the law does

Cathey's Law requires any municipality that uses portable or stationary traffic cameras to provide drivers with the opportunity to appeal those tickets.

If the car owner makes a “truthful affidavit” that he was not driving his car at the time the fine was imposed, he can get the fine waived.

Drivers can also be excused from liability if they clear the way for an ambulance, follow the instructions of a police officer, or drive in dangerous conditions that would make compliance difficult.

In school zones, automated monitoring can only occur one hour before and one hour after school starts and ends. Revenue from these zones must be split between local school districts and the government. Those two entities must agree on how the money is divided, Cathey said.

The money raised by other cameras must go to public safety – except in New Orleans, where it is earmarked for stormwater infrastructure.

Perhaps the law's most stringent restrictions, however, concern portable radar devices.

Except in school zones, such devices may not be used within one mile of a speed limit change of 10 miles per hour or more. In addition, municipalities must post 3-by-3-foot signs between 500 and 1,000 feet from the monitoring location.

Municipalities that continue to use automated speed enforcement systems will have to disclose the revenue they generate when applying for state aid for major improvement projects.

Impact on New Orleans

Of the 82 traffic cameras in New Orleans, all but a dozen are in school zones. In the past, $20 million in revenue from the cameras went to general city services without being used for any specific purpose.

Under the new law, New Orleans – unlike other cities – must use revenue generated outside school zones for drainage. More specifically, City Council members said, it will go to cleaning the city's 72,000 catch basins, which are in terrible shape after decades of neglect. City Hall has not yet set aside any money specifically for catch basins.

However, the city must wait and see whether the new measures to protect drivers will have a significant impact on overall revenue and must negotiate with the city's schools on how to share the revenue.

Council member Joe Giarrusso expressed hope that revenue from the traffic cameras will bring in an additional $10 million each year to cover at least part of the total cost, but that's not a big mystery given the new law.

Impact on other communities, businesses

In Baton Rouge, the speed camera law is likely to have far less impact. A spokesman for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office said the department does not use automated speed cameras; a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department declined to comment.

Several small communities, including the village of Clayton, did not respond to inquiries about how the new law would affect them.

After Clayton implemented a photo speed enforcement system in 2022, 400 tickets were issued within two days, the Concordia Sentinel reported.

Cathey pointed to Clayton's 2023 audit, which shows that revenue from fines and penalties increased from less than $21,000 to about $499,000 between 2022 and 2023. In comparison, the change between 2021 and 2022 was only a decrease of $6,000.

The audit does not reveal whether this money comes exclusively from traffic violations.

In some cases, it is not police officers but employees of traffic enforcement companies who use the automated equipment, Cathey said. Some companies also receive a share of the revenue based on the number of tickets issued, he said.

His law now requires operators of portable control devices to obtain POST certification.

Blue Line, which operates exclusively in school zones in Louisiana, supported Cathey's bill, saying it would “protect citizens from the machinations of unscrupulous corporations that engage in predatory practices for profit.”

The company added that public education and prominent signage, along with enforcement, are part of its speed reduction program and that its “initiatives are not designed as profit-making tactics.”

Blue Line's cameras have sparked strong reactions in other states. Two other camera companies, Verra Mobility and Redflex, did not respond to requests for comment.

Writer Ellyn Couvillion contributed to this story.

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