Red light cameras were originally installed in cities to increase public safety and reduce the number of traffic accidents at high-risk intersections. However, as local governments begin to generate millions from contracts with private camera companies, people are beginning to question the motives behind these programs.
Cities contract with large private camera companies like American Traffic Solutions (ATC) or Redflex to install video cameras at intersections to catch and fine drivers who run through red lights. The idea is that the videocameras are computer programmed to be accurate, by taking a picture at the exact moment a car exceeds the legislature’s minimum yellow light interval. Once the camera processes the license plate, a ticket is mailed to the driver’s address and a fine must be paid to the city.
Many worry that these contracts are putting profit over traffic safety. There is no question that red light cameras are generating revenue. In the Metroplex, one camera stationed at a busy intersection in Arlington generated $2.5 million in just four years. Further, the city of Fort Worth has reported $23 million since the cameras were installed.
Are there just that many people disobeying the law?
If you look into the contracts between the private camera companies and the government the answer is no.
“Privatized traffic enforcement system contracts limit government discretion to set and enforce traffic regulations put the public at risk. Some contracts include language that could penalize municipalities if they do not approve enough tickets; effectively setting a ticket quota and undermining the authority of local officials to decide which violations warrant citations. Other contracts give camera vendors the ability to veto proposed camera locations, sometimes referring to a minimum ticket number or revenue requirement.”
In addition to the quota issue, people are beginning to bring their red light ticket claims to court…and winning.
In 2012, the California Court of Appeals reversed a driver’s conviction after it struck down red light camera evidence as hearsay. The appellant cited the Supreme Court decision Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts that held that it was a violation of the 6th Amendment Confrontation Clause for a prosecutor to submit a report without the testimony of the person who performed it. Redflex had a police officer introduced its routine report of the red light violation, to which the appellant argued that the police officer played no role in the operation or maintenance of the red light camera system. Instead, he merely read the sheet of paper that Redflex handed him with a picture of the driver’s license plate and two words of text that read: “Amber: 3.15″(the driver’s name and time the light had been yellow).
The court rejected the appellee’s argument that the red light camera photographs and reports were merely routine governmental business records that did not require authentication. It also noted that the records were created by Redflex, not the government. The court concluded that the officer relied upon text typed across the top of the photo, which did not support the conclusion the officer was otherwise qualified to state that the representation was accurate. As a result, the report was excluded as hearsay in violation of the Confrontation Clause.
Problems with the system continue to increase as people refuse to pay their red light tickets. Websites and social media lend tips on how to help drivers avoid payment of red light camera fines. For instance, trashyourticket.com provides links to help drivers “understand” the law and get people involved through Facebook.
Another issue is whether red light cameras increase or reduce accidents. Camera advocates say the cameras prevent people from running the red light if they know they will be caught. Whereas the other side says these cameras cause confusion and increase the number of rear-end accidents.
“The first red light camera ticketing system was put in use in New York City in 1993. Since then, 24 states and the District of Columbia have installed red light cameras, while another 15 have banned automated ticketing systems.” As states continue to weigh the positives and negatives of these cameras, it is possible that the negatives could push the systems into our rear view.
California Court of Appeals Case: http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/37/3714.asp