Red-light camera fight comes to Knightdale

aspecht@newsobserver.comSeptember 9, 2013 

— Brian Ceccarelli may have lost a court battle, but that’s not stopping him from trying to win a crusade against red-light cameras in Knightdale.

Ceccarelli filed a class-action lawsuit against Cary in 2010 after receiving a ticket from the town for running a red light the year before. The Apex man, a physics major in college, argued that the yellow light was too brief and the laws of physics made it impossible for him to stop in time to obey the state’s red-light law.

A Wake County Superior Court judge ruled against Ceccarelli in January. But at the Knightdale Town Council meeting on Aug. 21, he urged lawmakers not to rehire a red-light camera company when the town’s contract with Redflex expires this fall.

“I’m not here to sue you,” Ceccarelli told the council, laughing. “But I did sue the town of Cary and I don’t want to go through that again.”

Cary unplugged its red-light cameras last year, leaving Knightdale and Raleigh as the only two Wake County cities still using a traffic-camera system.

Ironically, Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen has said the town will only sign a new long-term contract with Redflex if the company agrees to pay for legal costs the town might incur if someone – like Ceccarelli – challenges the cameras in court.

Ceccarelli in an interview said he doesn’t plan to sue Knightdale if the town decides to continue its red-light program. He told Knightdale councilmen – who he emailed several times – he sought their audience “to let you know what you’re getting into.”

Ceccarelli said Knightdale has been “committing felony fraud” because, until earlier this year, the town issued red-light violation citations that didn’t clearly present accused drivers with the option of nullifying the citation by claiming they weren’t driving the vehicle. Knightdale has amended the citations to include a checkbox for that option, though Ceccarelli says the instructions remain ambiguous.

More importantly, he said, yellow-light durations are inconsistent throughout the state because the Department of Transportation uses a faulty formula to calculate them – thus the red-light cameras are unfair and unsafe because their presence encourages drivers to make a split-second decision between slamming on the brakes or hitting the gas.

“Drivers are doing the best they can,” Ceccarelli said, adding that the flawed engineering of traffic lights caused drivers to “try to go against the laws of physics” to obey the law.

Ceccarelli also challenged a councilman’s assertion that red-light cameras are effective because accidents at intersections with red-light cameras decreased 46 percent between 2012 and 2003, when they were installed.

“It’s not because of red-light cameras, it’s because you don’t have the traffic along U.S. 64 in Knightdale that you had 10 years ago,” he said, noting that Interstate 540 and the Knightdale Bypass opened during that time. “You have half the accidents because (you have) half the cars.”

Knightdale Town Council members did not respond to Ceccarelli after his comments, which lasted 10 minutes. But afterward, they cast doubt on his comments.

Killen noted that Knightdale’s population has doubled since the red-light cameras were installed, so Ceccarelli’s assertion that traffic had decreased along U.S. 64 is “just flat-out wrong ... regardless of the two new highways.”

“He seems like a smart guy, but I don’t agree with him,” Councilman Dustin Tripp said. “The data shows our intersections got safer.”

On Sept. 3, Town Attorney Clyde Holt released a statement addressing Ceccarelli’s legal warnings. Holt said he and police Chief Jason Godwin reviewed the citations as well as state laws regarding the red-light program and concluded “that Knightdale’s red light camera program is in compliance with all applicable regulations.”

“The gentleman’s frustration is with NCDOT not Knightdale,” the statement said.

Ceccarelli admits that Holt is mostly right.

But Ceccarelli doesn’t mind tending to his website and emailing lawmakers across the state until his claims are addressed. Specifically, when DOT makes yellow-light durations consistent and fair.

“People are getting hurt (in wrecks) and dying because of engineering mistakes,” he said. “Until the DOT plugs in the right numbers into the right formula, I won’t stop.”

 

Specht: 919-829-4826

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