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Unofficial Opinion 2000-12

Unofficial Opinion 2000-12

December 28, 2000
To: 

Senator, District 12

Re: 

Georgia counties may enact ordinances regarding enforcement of traffic control devices by the use of cameras. Such cameras may be erected at intersections of roads within the state highway system, provided their placement is approved by the Department of Transportation.

You have asked for my opinion on whether counties may enact ordinances which provide for civil enforcement of compliance with traffic control devices through the use of cameras or other imaging technology. Also, you have asked, if such ordinances are permissible, whether such cameras or imaging devices may be erected at the intersection of roads designated as “U.S. Highways,” which are also designated as part of the state highway system.

For the reasons set forth below, it is my opinion that Georgia counties may enact such ordinances and that counties may erect such imaging technology at the intersection of roads within the state highway system, so long as they first obtain approval of their placement from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

As you noted in your request, I recently opined that municipalities are not prohibited by Georgia’s Constitution or laws from enacting ordinances regarding enforcement of traffic control devices by the use of cameras. 2000 Op. Att’y Gen. U2000-7. As was contemplated by that opinion, I understand that the scheme which you are contemplating for the video enforcement of compliance with traffic control devices would include civil monetary penalties which, when imposed, would be the responsibility of the owner of the vehicle. Violations for failure to comply with traffic control devices would be detected by the video or other imaging equipment erected at or near the device and recorded for use in enforcing this civil monetary penalty.

Georgia’s Constitution clearly recognizes the power of county governing authorities “to adopt clearly reasonable ordinances, resolutions, or regulations relating to its property, affairs, and local government for which no provision has been made by general law and which is not inconsistent with this Constitution or any local law applicable thereto.” GA. CONST. Art. IX, Sec. II, Para. I(a). Moreover, O.C.G.A. § 36-1-20(a) provides that the “governing authority of each county, for the purpose of protecting and preserving the public health, safety, and welfare, is authorized to adopt ordinances for the governing and policing of the unincorporated areas of the county, violations of which ordinances may be punished by fine or imprisonment or both.” Specifically, such ordinances “may provide for traffic regulation.” Id.

Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 40-6-371(a) also permits “local authorities with respect to streets and highways under their jurisdiction and within the reasonable exercise of the police power . . . [to r]egulat[e] traffic by means of police officers or official traffic control devices.” As noted in my earlier opinion, “official traffic control devices” are defined as “all signs, signals, markings, and devices not inconsistent with this title which are placed or erected by authority of a public body or official having jurisdiction for the purpose of regulating, warning, or guiding traffic.” 2000 Op. Att’y Gen. U2000-7; O.C.G.A. § 40-1-1(37). As the camera or other imaging devices envisioned in your request would be erected for the purpose of regulating traffic by means of monitoring compliance with stop lights and the like, they would fall within this definition of “traffic control devices.”

Thus, it is my unofficial opinion that county governing authorities may enact ordinances regarding enforcement of traffic control devices, and that they may erect camera or other imaging devices to monitor compliance with such ordinances. Next, I must consider whether such monitoring devices may be erected on roads and highways within the state highway system.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is required to “plan, designate, improve, manage, control, construct, and maintain a state highway system and have control of and responsibility for all construction, maintenance, or any other work upon the state highway system and all other work which may be designated to be done by the department by this title or any other law.” O.C.G.A. § 32-2-2(a)(1). More directly, O.C.G.A. § 32-6-51(a) makes it “unlawful for any person to erect, place, or maintain within the right of way of any public road any sign, signal, or other device except as [otherwise] authorized.” Although counties and municipalities, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 32-6-50(c), may erect traffic control devices upon the roads within their road systems in conformity with the regulations of the Department of Transportation, “[t]he department may remove or direct removal of all traffic-control devices and signs which are erected on the state highway system by any governing authority without the permission of the department.” O.C.G.A. § 32-6-50(b).

Thus, it is further my unofficial opinion that no county may erect any camera or other imaging device on any road within the state highway system without first receiving permission to do so from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Prepared by:

CHRISTOPHER S. BRASHER
Senior Assistant Attorney General