Thought I’d share with you some thought-provoking reading:

Gwinnett city officials said they are eager to restore their ability to operate radar and laser speed detection devices following a tentative settlement this week in a three-year court battle between the county and its 15 cities. A side effect of the battle was that the cities have not been able to get state permits to operate speed detection devices for more than a year.

If a judge approves the county-cities deal, local departments still must seek reinstatement and re-certification from the state Department of Public Safety.

“We’re asking the judge to immediately lift the sanctions,” said Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson. “But there’s still some questions about how long this all could take.”

Gwinnett was the first county to face such extreme consequences since the law requiring counties and cities to agree on how to provide and fund overlapping services took effect in 1998. Without such a deal they were ineligible for certain state funds and permits.

Taking away their ability to enforce speed-limit laws, local officials say, has been a major public safety concern.

Accident data from the past three years doesn’t support those concerns. But there has been a significant financial toll on city coffers.

Financial records obtained via Open Records request show city police departments in Gwinnett lost at least $1.6 million in speeding ticket revenue compared to 2010. Lawrenceville, the largest city in the county, does not track those figures.

The biggest losers were Duluth, Lilburn and Suwanee, which lost more than $1 million collectively due to reduced speeding tickets.

Several police departments focused their enforcement efforts on drivers who made illegal lane changes,  followed other motorists too closely or ran stop signs. The strategy shifts helped make up some of the budget shortfalls.

“Obviously, we had to readjust our strategies,” Lilburn Police Chief Bruce Hedley said. “Even though we did write (fewer) tickets, we compensated for that loss by covering those areas that we need to patrol traffic safely.”

In Lilburn, citations rose 229 percent for improper and unsafe equipment; 76 percent for red-light violations; 51 percent for disregarding stop signs; 49 percent for no proof of insurance; and 46 percent for driving under the influence.

Though Gwinnett’s seven major city police departments issued about 17,000 fewer speeding citations in 2011 from the previous year, records show there were only 16 more accidents with injuries and two more with fatalities.

Lilburn, for example, recorded 138 accidents with injuries in 2011, down from 142 in 2010. Duluth, where speed ticket revenue fell a county-leading $596,022 last year, went from 247 accidents with injuries in 2010 to 253 in 2011.

“The fact that decreased enforcement hasn’t led to a corresponding increase in accidents makes the point that enforcement isn’t really about public safety,” said John Bowman, spokesman for the National Motorists Association, a Wisconsin-based drivers’ rights group that lobbies against “overbearing” police departments. “People tend to drive at speeds that are safe and prudent, even if they are going slightly faster than the posted limit, which is typically set too low.

Just when we thought speeding tickets were there to keep us safer, evidence comes out to the contrary. Local law enforcement agencies use traffic laws largely as revue builders, not as safety enhancing measures. I suppose it’s not surprising, but it was a good read I thought everyone would like. Happy Valentines Day!

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