New Orleans is known for its winding, roughly paved streets and its motorists' laissez-faire attitude toward the conventions of signaling, stopping, and driving in general, but a new move by the city aims to discourage traffic violations that occur outside the watchful eye of the law. NOLA's 2017 budget, released Monday, includes provisions for the purchase and installation of around 56 new traffic cameras around the city. The cameras generate millions for the city, but have drawn the ire of locals and tourists, and are currently the subject of a lawsuit by a group of citizens who claim they are unconstitutional.
New Orleans' traffic camera program began in 2008, and has brought over $10.5 million directly to the city's general fund since, with close to two million total citations issued. The addition of the new cameras, many of which will be placed in school zones, will more than double the total number in the city, and will include 10 mobile cameras, which are projected to add $5 million in revenue. Mobile cameras are typically installed in unmarked cars, which are then parked in different areas around the city, making it more difficult for drivers to spot them and adjust their driving. Tickets from the cameras are sent via mail to offenders, who can appeal them in traffic court, but as some have pointed out, appealing citations is impractical for tourists who receive them at their home address after leaving the city.
The addition of the cameras is not likely to be a popular move among many residents who feel the cameras don't fulfill their intended purpose of improving traffic safety, and that they may not be entirely legal. A lawsuit filed in March of this year claims the cameras violate the city charter and state constitution. Angela Bozant, one of seven plaintiffs, noted that the cameras photograph and ticket motorists who don't even run lights. "You can just be parked at the intersection, and if you pass over the white line it'll flash you no matter what," she said, adding that the difficulty of appealing the tickets and the prospect of even greater court fees deter her from challenging them. Bozant's attorney, Byron Forrest, pointed out that the system allows the city to automatically issue citations and circumvent traffic court entirely, which may violate state law.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu is of a different mind about the cameras, and believes that many residents are in favor of increased enforcement. "It's almost a joke nationally that people in New Orleans think that yellow means go faster," he said, stating that he regularly hears from people upset about traffic violations in the city. "If you don't run a red light, you won't get a ticket," he added. Studies on the effectiveness of traffic cameras have been scarce, but the Chicago Tribune found that they're associated with a 22% increase in rear-end collisions.