City-parish gets aggressive on red light violators
LAFAYETTE — The days of ignoring traffic camera violations may soon be over.
The City-Parish Council last week approved a new collection policy that calls on the city-parish attorney’s office to file lawsuits to recover unpaid fines issued under the city’s traffic camera enforcement program.
The move comes as the dollar amount of fines past due by at least four months has climbed to $6.6 million since the traffic camera program began in 2007, according to figures from the City-Parish Traffic and Transportation Department.
“There didn’t seem to be any consequences. I was aggravated with it,” said City-Parish President Joey Durel.
It seems some repeat offenders are intentionally speeding or running red lights with impunity at intersections with traffic cameras, he said.
The total number of violations past due by four months or more was 104,070 as of May, and three drivers accumulated more than 90 tickets each, the Traffic and Transportation Department figures show.
Councilman Keith Patin said the growing amount of unpaid traffic camera fines has long been a sore point with him.
“I’ve always believed you needed to follow the rules. If you violate the rules, I think you need to be held accountable, and it should not be out there flapping in the wind forever,” he said.
The private company that oversees the traffic camera program for the city has been sending past-due fines to a collection agency, but that strategy has had limited success.
City-parish government always had the authority to seek payment with lawsuits, but there has been no clearly defined process for when litigation would be appropriate.
Under the collection process the council approved last week, drivers with unpaid traffic camera fines totalling $125 or more that are past due by at least four months are first forwarded to a collection agency.
If the collection agency is not successful after another four months, the city-parish attorney’s office is then authorized to file a lawsuit to recover the money.
The dollar amount of unpaid fines meeting the new collection criteria is $5.2 million — money owed for about 73,000 violations, the traffic department figures show.
The department did not have specific figures for how many drivers might meet the new criteria for possible lawsuits, but the estimate is at more than 16,000, based on the number of addresses the past-due traffic violations have been mailed to over the years.
Pursuing thousands of individual drivers in court would likely be impractical, and, Durel said, the decision on which cases to tackle will likely be made in the city-parish legal department.
Durel and Tony Tramel, the city-parish director of Traffic and Transportation Department, said details are being ironed out for an amnesty program that, if approved by the council, would allow drivers to pay delinquent tickets minus late fees before city-parish government begins enforcing the tougher collection policy.
“The issue of how long and when it becomes effective still needs to be determined,” Tramel said.
The council voted 5-3 Tuesday to approve the new collection policy.
The three “no” votes were from councilmen Jared Bellard, Andy Naquin and William Theriot.
The three have been vocal opponents of the traffic camera program.
Theriot has questioned whether the legal expense of pursuing unpaid fines might outweigh the amount of money ultimately collected.
There are 12 intersections in Lafayette monitored by traffic cameras.
The cameras take pictures of the driver and license plate when a vehicle speeds through an intersection or runs a red light. The alleged violator is mailed a citation.