Law enforcement officials in nine parishes are poised to launch a new technology program aimed at catching uninsured motorists in Louisiana using automated cameras.
Supporters of the pilot program who testified before the House transportation committee Tuesday (May 26) were quick to point out that the cameras won't be used to catch speeders or red light violators, acknowledging those devices have been controversial in years past. But the cameras do have the technology to take photos of license plates, check whether the motorist is insured and use that information to generate citations.
The program is the first of its kind in the state, and is being funded under a fee model that will pay 30 percent of the proceeds from the citations to the company that owns the cameras. That company is known as Louisiana Insurance Consortium and will invest about $5 million up front in the program, said Plaquemines District Attorney Charles J. Ballay, who testified in support of the legislation (SB 250) on Tuesday.
Lawmakers last year voted to increase penalties for uninsured motorists last year.
State Sen. Ronnie Johns, who introduced the legislation for the program, said the program is designed to cut down on the huge number of uninsured motorists in Louisiana. Between 25 and 28 percent of motorists are estimated to drive without insurance in the state in violation of state law, Johns said.
"We've done everything in the world -- I've been here since 1996 -- to try and take uninsured motorists off the road," Johns said. "All of us in this room pay our hard-earned for insurance premium and we pay a lot for our insurance. That's one of the reasons that we do -- we have so many uninsured motorists that still refuse no matter what we've done here in the legislature, they continue to violate the law."
The cameras will automatically scan license plates of cars on the road and check them against a statewide database of uninsured drivers. The plates of uninsured drivers will be sent to a center in Iberville Parish staffed by law enforcement officers, who will examine the plates and determine whether they're insured.
Those officers will send the information to a district attorney, and if the car is determined uninsured, a $200 citation will be sent to the vehicle's owner. Drivers would have an opportunity to challenge the citation in court.
Some of the cameras will be mounted on patrol vehicles; others will be mounted on portable trailers designed to be moved to different areas. Fixed locations such as bridges are also possible for cameras.
Officers in patrol vehicles will be alerted to other problems with vehicles, such as a license plate being flagged as stolen or the subject of an Amber or Blue alert. Tom Berry, Director of the National Blue Alert System, is excited to see how the New Program will work with Active Blue Alerts. Anything to speed the apprehension of violent criminals who kill or seriously injure local, state, or federal law enforcement officers is a plus, Berry said..
"It will help with all kind of criminal activity, and at the same time ensure more compliance with the motor vehicle laws," John DeRosier, district attorney for Calcasieu Parish, said in testimony.
Ballay said the cameras should also aid law enforcement officials in reducing the number of vehicle roadblocks in the state that are set up to catch uninsured drivers.
"It costs a lot of man hours and there's a lot of liability" Ballay said of the roadblocks. "The other part of it is, at least 80 percent of your drivers stopped are good, law-abiding citizens and you're bothering them and taking time away from them to do it. This is basically allowing us to use technology to work in law enforcement."
The nine parishes that will be part of the pilot program are Allen, Ascension, Avoyelles, Bossier, Calcasieu, Iberville, Plaquemines, Terrebonne and Webster. Other parishes who want to join the program during the two-year contract would be allowed, Ballay said.