Red light cameras: Safety or simply revenue?
Some cities have dropped cameras as a traffic law enforcement tool, saying their effectiveness has been questionable.
This post comes from Angela Brandt at partner site Money Talks News.
Red light cameras have infested Ventura, Calif. About 20 of them oversee this beach community, one of the first to install such technology. The photos could very well be your most pricey portrait at about $500 a pop.Angry debate over the legality of the cameras is ongoing. Many argue they violate a person's right to due process. Others say the technology fails to increase safety to motorists and pedestrians, supposedly a key feature of the programs.
Just a few days ago, I witnessed a near collision in a camera-monitored intersection. A driver entered it just as the light turned red and slammed on his brakes in an attempt not to get caught, leaving him smack-dab in the middle of the crossroads.
Would it have been safer for him to have simply continued through the intersection, without fear of getting ticketed? Who knows?
But consider that San Diego city officials ultimately abandoned their cameras in February after realizing the program had failed to quell public safety issues. It was adopted in 1998.
Roughly 20,000 motorists a year received tickets in the mail during the cameras' reign, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"Seems to me that such a program can only be justified if there are demonstrable facts that prove that they raise the safety awareness and decrease accidents in our city," San Diego Mayor Bob Filner said. "The data, in fact, does not really prove it."
The Federal Highway Administration says the technology reduces right-angle crashes with injuries by 15%. But the same study found rear-end accidents with injuries increase by 24%.
San Diego's mayor also said the cameras bred disrespect for the law and distrust among people who thought they were only there to generate revenue for the city.
Other California cities, including Los Angeles, Pasadena and Glendale, have scrapped the cameras. But, Ventura and others keep them clicking despite the arguments.
Even if you don't live in a community utilizing red light cameras, there's a good chance you'll visit one; more than 500 cities and towns have them in place.
How it works
The cameras send pictures of violations taken at different angles and sometimes a short video to the service provider, where they are processed. Eventually, police sift through the photos and determine if a citation should be issued.
According to the Ventura County Star, Ventura police say they mail a ticket only when the photos show that a violation has been committed and that the driver is the registered owner of the car. They check to see whether the driver's license photo of the car's registered owner matches the photo of the driver taken by the red light camera. In Ventura, citations are issued about half the time.
What can you do?
If you get cited, you can contest the ticket. Here are some tips:
- Acquire a photo of the alleged violation. Some cities mail a photo with your ticket, while in others you must make a special request. Examine both the ticket to ensure the information is correct and the photo to make sure the driver looks like you, Nolo says. Can the license plate be read clearly?
- Read the applicable state law. The wording differs in each state, but generally prosecutors must prove you were identified as the driver and you disobeyed a traffic signal in that county, FindLaw says. In most instances, the driver of the vehicle, not the car's owner, is liable for the ticket. One exception is New York, where red light violations are treated like parking citations and are the vehicle owner's responsibility.
Now you're ready to explore possible defenses:
- Nolo suggests you ask the judge to toss the photos if an employee from the camera company doesn't show up to authenticate the evidence. If the judge agrees, the prosecution has no case.
- If the images are not clear, argue that the evidence is not convincing enough.
- Running a red light to avoid a serious accident and injury is acceptable in some states.
- Inadequate signage may be another argument for dismissal of the ticket. Return to the scene and see if the signs comply with the law. "If they don't, and you prove that to the court with photos and diagrams, you have a good chance of beating the ticket," Nolo says.
The argument over the effectiveness and fairness of red light cameras goes on wherever they're still in use. Recently, Chicago's program -- which produced $71 million in revenue last year -- was criticized in an audit by Chicago's Office of Inspector General (.pdf file), says CNSNews.com.
"If the intent of the (red light camera) program is to increase safety and reduce the number of dangerous angle crashes, it is troubling that CDOT cannot produce documentation or an analysis demonstrating how each camera location was chosen … ," the audit said.
Are there red light cameras where you live? Do you think they're useful in preventing accidents or an easy source of city revenue? Share your thoughts below.
More on Money Talks News:
it is my opinion that these camera are intended to PRIMARILY generate money for the jurisdiction that has them.
we had them here in Houston, and we ( the voters) forced their shutdown!
Here's a case study for you. About 10 years ago we had red light cameras around Greensboro, NC. A lot of people complained about getting unwarranted tickets - a guy I worked with got one in the mail, and the picture clearly showed that the light was yellow. But it wasn't malfunctions or public complaints that killed our red light cameras. It turned out that the enacted legislation required that a high percentage of the collected fines had to go to the school system, but it wasn't so the schools sued. Plus, the State also wanted a cut. They couldn't afford to pay the school system and State and the contracting company (who installed and maintained the cameras, as well as handled the paperwork including fining violators – yet another questionable legal practice). So they scrapped the program.
It doesn’t sound like safety was the true motivator here – money was.
The safety argument is ridiculous. At the intersections that have cameras in Chicago, accidents have actually increased. Paranoid drivers now either increase speed, or slam on their brakes attempting to avoid $100.00 ticket!
Citizens of Chicago end up paying for the abuses of corrupt politicians and decision makers.
These cameras are a cash-cow for the companies that make and install them, not the municipalities that are supposed to benefit. The cities that have dropped them may give a statement about "distrust" or respect for the law, but it all comes down to $. The cameras will click law-breakers, but they wil also cite a lawful right turn on red. I recieved such a ticket in San Bernardino and despite it being a 2 hour drive from my home, chose to fight the ticket. On my court day there were over 100 people there to deal with photo-tickets (dozens from the same intersection where I got mine). We all got our chance to review the video evidence with an officer. And one by one almost everyone was dismissed. So the city pays a clerk, a specially trained sherriff's officer, and support staff to spend all day disposing of faulty citations (a handful were upheld). Within a year that camera was gone. The programs get sold to the cities as a potential revenue stream, but the programs end up being losers.
The fact that they are run by 'for profit companies' who give a cut of the ticket to the town is the real crime.
If you get a $75 ticket in the mail... the local government is likely only being paid a small portion of that... say $8-20! That's the real scam. If more people realized that, the anger would be much much higher.
Our AZ freeways had them for about 3 1/2 years and were removed. There wasn't any legal way to make any one to pay for them. Some of our own government officials told us not to pay the fine.
Why is it on an interstate? The mayor laments that the cameras are not making enough money because people have slowed down and they stop for red lights. He could care less about cutting accidents. Hence, the real reason for an extensive camera network is for money, look up DC traffic cameras.
One of the reasons the Supreme Court will likely rule traffic cameras illegal is that the companies installing the cameras get a cut of the action, a conflict of interest.
When a driver on her cell phone ran a red light and I t-boned her, I seriously doubt having a red light camera at the intersection would have PREVENTED the accident. If you are going to be irresponsible, a camera cannot stop that.
Also, anyone driving knows that sometimes you think you have enough time and you go through the light just as it turns. Often, no harm, no foul. An officer seeing this happen would use good judgement. Since the camera has NO LOGICAL JUDGMENT, you get a ticket. I got one for being 1.5 seconds past the light when I was caught in the middle of an intersection trying to turn left. Really????
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