The most senior Texas state lawmaker admitted last week that he voted to save red light camera programs even though he knew they had no effect on public safety.
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Cities around the country have begun dropping the use of red light cameras,which were once touted as the best way to stop drivers from “blowing through” red lights. Disappointed municipal officials invariably point to the systems’ failure to generate the promised amount of revenue as the reason for the change. To keep from losing more clients, the red light camera industry’s latest move has been to ticket drivers who stop at red lights to boost the number of potential violations.
Several years ago the industry significantly increased its yield by transitioning away from ticketing vehicles for running red lights. Instead, camera focused on right-hand turn lanes so they could mail citations to the owners of vehicles that make slow, rolling right turns on red. In some jurisdictions, right-turn tickets account for 90 percent of all tickets issued — even though national and local data suggest the maneuver is not dangerous. In some cases, however, right-turn tickets failed to be profitable when the public refused to pay citations — as happened in Los Angeles, California — or because of legislative restrictions on right-turn citations — as happened in Florida.
Last April, the city of Denver became the first jurisdiction in Colorado to allow a private company, Affiliated Computer Services, to issue red light camera tickets to stationary vehicles. Issuing tickets to stopped drivers only required a simple software change, but it boosted the city’s profit fourfold.
Newark, California is one of the cities where ninety percent of the $480 tickets issued by Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia go to the owners of vehicles photographed turning right on red. Through December 2011, the change has contributed significantly to the grand total of 41,575 tickets Redflex has been issued, worth $19,956,000.
One of those ticket recipients, who asked not to be identified, drove his Toyota Prius on August 27 at the intersection of Newark Boulevard and Jarvis Avenue. He pulled up to the intersection at a speed of 16 MPH with his turn signal activated. He came to a full stop and waited for several seconds for traffic to clear before proceeding. His front tire crossed the first line of the crosswalk, which Newark and Redflex contend is a serious violation of the law. At 9:42pm, there were no pedestrians visible anywhere near the intersection. Though the Prius driver was outraged at receiving the ticket, he decided to plead guilty before a judge known for reducing turning tickets to $110 rather than risk losing the full $480.
Cops in Ohio may not rip a motorist out of his vehicle to “check on his welfare.” The state court of appeals handed down a decision earlier this month in a case involving a man parked on the side of the road in a quiet Columbus residential neighborhood who was “helped” out of his car with physical force.
Al E. Forrest sat in the driver’s seat of a 2003 Ford Explorer with another man in the passenger seat as two police officers came up on either side of the vehicle. According to Officer Kevin George’s testimony, he just wanted to see if the Explorer driver was okay. The officers had no suspicion of any criminal activity prior to approaching the Explorer. When George poked his head into the driver’s window, Forrest looked surprised to see a cop staring at him through the window. George said this was a sign of “nervousness.” When George saw money in Forrest’s left hand, he ordered the man out of the SUV. This was the beginning of the legal problem for the Columbus officer.
A pair of senior police officers in Brindisi, Italy were arrested Tuesday in a speed camera bribery scheme. The owner of a BMW X6 blew the whistle on officers Giuseppe Manca and Antonio Briganti after a speed camera accused him of driving 160km/h (99 MPH) on state route 16, where the limit is 110km/h (68 MPH).
The driver faced a fine of between 500 to 2000 euros (US $650 to $2615) plus license points. The officers offered to make the conviction disappear for payment of 250 euros (US $327) in cash. The officers were able to erase the conviction from the speed camera logs to prevent detection of their tactics.
The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on Tuesday rejected a class action lawsuit filed against the speed camera program in the nation’s capital. Motorists Henry Dixon and Cuong Thanh Phung argued the city violated their constitutional guarantee to equal protection of law by treating drivers pulled over for speeding more harshly than drivers mailed photo tickets for speeding.
The US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against Nixon and Phung, finding no violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (through the Fifth Amendment) because drivers apprehended for speeding by police officers are not similarly situated to motorists photographed and accused of speeding by a photo radar device. The district judge reasoned that the camera is unable to confirm that the owner was the driver, so the greater punishment should not be imposed. The three-judge appellate panel agreed with the lower court’s conclusion, but for a different reason. The speed camera law can stand under the “rational basis test” used to insulate government actions from constitutional challenge.
As long as a police officer cites his own safety as the reason, he may frisk any motorist during a traffic stop and remove objects from his pockets, according to a ruling handed down Tuesday by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. A three-judge panel evaluated whether Officer Joe Moreno was following the law when he searched driver Ivan Rochin after he was pulled over in Albuquerque, New Mexico for driving with an expired registration.
“No one likes being pulled over for a traffic violation,” Judge Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for the court. “Still, for most drivers the experience usually proves no more than an unwelcome (if often self-induced) detour from the daily routine. But not every traffic stop is so innocuous. Sometimes what begins innocently enough turns violent, often rapidly and unexpectedly. Every year, thousands of law enforcement officers are assaulted — and many are killed — in what seem at first to be routine stops for relatively minor traffic infractions.”
After performing a thorough performance audit, Denver, Colorado’s city auditor is no longer convinced of the value of red light cameras and speed cameras. The Denver Police Department (DPD) deputized the Dallas-based firm Affiliated Computer Services (ACS, a division of Xerox) to issue red light tickets at four intersections and speeding tickets throughout the city with five roaming vans. The program has little more to show for itself than a profitable bottom line.
“Unfortunately, DPD has not demonstrated that the photo radar program has a positive impact on public safety,” City Auditor Dennis J. Gallagher wrote. “Because these programs were sold as public safety enhancements but are widely viewed as a cash grab, it undermines public trust to maintain photo enforcement programs that are profitable but whose safety impact has not been conclusively shown. If this situation persists, then the photo enforcement programs should be shut down.”
The Florida legislature’s authorization of red light cameras last year was superfluous, a divided state Court of Appeals panel ruled yesterday. The majority sided with the city of Aventura in overturning a Miami-Dade County Circuit Court decision from last year that found Aventura had jumped the gun by giving American Traffic Solutions (ATS) a green light to mail out automated tickets without waiting for the state’s permission.
Florida law does not allow a city to adopt an ordinance in conflict with a state statute. The majority argued a provision requiring traffic officers only to issue traffic tickets for violations they personally observed is not in conflict because the same officers can “observe” the infraction on video under the Aventura photo ticketing ordinance.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) succeeded Monday in having a license plate with the slogan “Choose Life” blocked in North Carolina. US District Court Judge James C. Fox granted the liberal group’s request for a preliminary injunction against issuance of the plate while the lawsuit makes its way through the court.
On June 30, Governor Bev Perdue (D) signed a law giving motorists the choice of paying $25 extra to have the plate instead of the standard-issue “First in Flight” logo on their license plate. Other available show a preference for individual NASCAR drivers or carry messages such as “Play Tennis,” “Save the Sea Turtle,” “I’d Rather be Shaggin’,” “Support Our Troops” and “Kids First.” The ACLU argues that the lack of an plate expressing support for abortion violates their First Amendment rights.
The US Supreme Court earlier this month heard oral arguments in a case that will set the legal boundaries for police GPS surveillance of automobiles. Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that police were wrong to spend a month tracking the every move of Antoine Jones, who was arrested on October 24, 2005 for drug possession (view opinion). A tracking device had been attached to Jones’s Jeep without judicial approval. The high court judges engaged in heated debate about the rights of motorists in connection with the Fourth Amendment.
Maryland state law prohibits municipalities from paying contractors to operate speed camera and red light cameras on a per-ticket basis. In an October 27 ruling, the Court of Special Appeals found that localities are free to ignore this legal requirement.
A group of motorists in 2008 filed a class action lawsuit against Montgomery County, the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, and Chevy Chase Village because each paid Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) $16.25 for each ticket the company issued, in violation of the statute.
“If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of Montgomery County, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid,” state code section 21-809 states.
The Federal Highway Administration this week turned down the state of Georgia’s request to relax the occupancy requirement on the new Interstate 85 high occupancy toll lanes (HOT lanes) in Gwinett County. In October, the state imposed the toll on the existing carpool lane, raising the number of occupants qualifying for a free ride from two to three.
The initial $5.50 on top of the occupancy change proved too much and traffic ground to a halt in the general purpose lanes while the toll lanes remained relatively unused. In a panic, Governor Nathan Deal (R) moved on October 6 to slash the toll and request a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration to drop the occupancy requirement back down to two.
Prince George’s County, Maryland judges are tired of complaints that photo enforcement citations are inaccurate or otherwise invalid. To speed proceedings on “speed camera day” when automated citation cases are heard, at least one judge is cautioning motorists not to bother attempting to prove their innocence, regardless of the merit of their argument.
“This is a speed camera violation session,” District Judge Jean S. Baron said on November 9. “The only defense the court is going to accept is if you were not the driver of the vehicle and you have the name and the address of the person who was driving and you present that to the court under oath, I will accept that as a defense. Please don’t tell me that you know you couldn’t have been going that fast or there’s something wrong with the equipment.”
Private citizens can arrest other motorists suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), the Louisiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday. A three-judge panel considered the case of Tracy L. Common who was stopped in Westwego by Gretna Police Detective Brian Rico at 9pm on December 31, 2006. Rico was off-duty and outside his jurisdiction.
That night, Rico saw Common’s Chevy S-10 pickup truck swerving on the road and felt the driver was seriously impaired. He activated the lights on his unmarked car and conducted a stop without waiting for the local police to arrive. When Common hopped out of the car, Rico conducted a pat-down search which turned up 50 pills and $1100 in cash. A later search of his car by local police uncovered $2000 and some marijuana.
Though Rico was a police officer, the court assumed he was acting as an ordinary citizen, citing the 2008 appellate case Louisiana v. Lavergne which upheld a DUI traffic stop performed by a volunteer firefighter from Texas.
Investors in Redflex Traffic Systems were resigned toward the photo enforcement vendor’s declining US performance at Wednesday’s annual shareholder meeting in Melbourne, Australia. The company has lost significant US market share and profit as more cities reject automated ticketing machines. Nonetheless, large executive compensation packages were approved without the dissent found in past meetings.
Shareholders signed off on a $324,926 salary for chief executive Graham Davie, plus $194,956 in stock for a total of $519,882 — a raise of 3.6 percent. Board member Karen Finley’s salary increased 3 percent to $318,270 plus $196,060 in stock for a total of $514,330. Finley is in charge of US operations which saw a drop in profit from the first and second half of the year of 7.4 percent.
Redflex has also lost its position as the dominant player in the automated ticketing market to American Traffic Solutions which has used funds invested by Goldman Sachs to buy out smaller competitors and take on their municipal contracts. ATS now boasts the greatest number of cameras deployed.