By on September 9, 2008

The Newspaper does it again, exposing the hidden cash grab behind the blogger’s bugaboo: red light cameras. “In 2000 the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency signed a $3,497,960 contract with a Dallas-based firm, now known as Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), to issue pricey photo citations at seventeen railroad crossings. The county further ordered the company to keep a steady flow of tickets, or face corrective action… The contract sets as the baseline that the company must issue 25 tickets for every 100 alleged violations recorded by the machine. These recordings include any number of situations where either no real offense took place, or the driver cannot be positively identified — as required under California law. Nonetheless, if the total number of citations mailed falls under 25 per 100, the corrective steps must be taken to boost the number of citations mailed. In effect, this provides a direct incentive to the contractor to issue tickets regardless of whether the machine properly captured a true violation. There is no penalty under state law for a contractor to guess, for example, a license plate number when the image is unreadable.” As I don’t want to be responsible for mass blood boiling, I won’t tell you about the memo from a Roseville police chief telling his pencil pushers how to hide the hypocrisy. Suffice it to say, the safety argument doesn’t seem to be anyone’s primary concern in all this.

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27 Comments on “LA Red Light Ticket Cameras Have Quotas. No, Really....”


  • avatar
    Cicero

    “All we care about is public safety.”

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    That is a hilarious quote.

    Corporations and government, almost indistinguishable nowadays, only care about the bottom line. Psh.

  • avatar
    findude

    The reality about the financial models behind red-light cameras is even uglier than the tiny piece of it exposed by the article.

    Many of these are installed by the contractor on a commission basis, with the contractor taking some or all the risk for the cost of installation. If the camera was not meeting revenue expectations, the length of the yellow light was often reduced (increasing danger rather than safety) until revenue targets were met.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The contract sets as the baseline that the company must issue 25 tickets for every 100 alleged violations recorded by the machine.

    That’s fair. The machine should issue tickets if there are violations. That’s the point.

    These recordings include any number of situations where either no real offense took place, or the driver cannot be positively identified — as required under California law.

    That’s not, though I have some trouble reconciling the statements above:

    One: how can you have “violation” without an “offense”? Either you’ve run the red, or you haven’t. There’s no middle ground here.

    Two: I’m also confused by how the heck the driver is identified. Unless they’ve started microchipping people in California, this is “can we make out who is behind the wheel”, which is so open to interpretation as to be useless. The point of these systems is to fine you for running red–how you sort out who pays that fine is up to you (ie, if your car was stolen, I’m sure they’ll give you break, if your wife/husband/child/relative/love-slave was driving it, well, make your own arrangements).

    Trying to ID the driver? That seems like a cop-out to appease people who don’t want to address the issue themselves.

  • avatar
    ckb

    Devils advocate here, this quota is just a way to measure system performance. Not government bloodsucking (that would be photo enforcement itself). How else could you judge the performance of the company’s camera system? The quota doesn’t say how many violations must be recorded. If no infractions happen, no pictures are taken and no fines are issued. Or if the system works as promised, one ticket per infraction is issued. No big deal.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    psarhjinian,
    how the heck the driver is identified

    What they do in Australia is assume the owner is driving and responsible, unless you the owner can prove otherwise. If you can’t get someone else to own up to the offense, then you the owner responsible, even if it is clearly not you behind the wheel.

  • avatar
    miked

    @psarhjinian: The point of these systems is to fine you for running red–how you sort out who pays that fine is up to you

    That’s not necessarily true. As far as I know (IANAL), most of the motor vehicle laws in the US are written such that the _driver_ is responsible, not the owner. So unless you can clearly ID the driver you _shouldn’t_ be able to give just the registered owner of the vehicle a ticket. Just like if I let you borrow my car and all the lights are burnt out and there’s a kilo of coke hidden in the glove box. If you get pulled over, it’s your problem since as the driver, you’re responsible for all aspects of the vehicle.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    What they do in Australia is assume the owner is driving and responsible, unless you the owner can prove otherwise. If you can’t get someone else to own up to the offense, then you the owner responsible, even if it is clearly not you behind the wheel.

    That’s what they do here (Canada), but it’s simply fiscal–not legal–responsibility. They’re like parking tickets and are assigned to the vehicle owner, but do not affect points, criminal records and/or insurance.

  • avatar

    What they do in Australia is assume the owner is driving and responsible, unless you the owner can prove otherwise. If you can’t get someone else to own up to the offense, then you the owner responsible, even if it is clearly not you behind the wheel.

    In the US couldn’t you claim the 5th (the right against self incrimination), so it’s up to the authorities to prove that it was you and not your responsibility to admit to it ?

  • avatar
    billc83

    Can’t remember where I read it, but I heard a horror story of some guy who dropped his car in for service and had a ticket issued to him when the car was in dealer’s hands. Went to court to dispute it, and I guess they require you to name names or else you are indeed stuck with the ticket. Because he didn’t know who was driving the car, he got stuck paying.

    He was up in arms because he said it wasn’t his responsibility to do the detective work – he asked the dealership who could be responsible and they couldn’t tell him.

    Sorry, this was probably a couple months back, but that’s the best I remember.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    He was up in arms because he said it wasn’t his responsibility to do the detective work – he asked the dealership who could be responsible and they couldn’t tell him.

    Surprising, since the dealer would have had records for when the car was checked in and out, or at least a receipt noting when the service request was printed and when the customer paid the invoice and/or picked up the car.

    I’d have taken the dealer to small claims.

  • avatar
    redrum

    Here is Seattle they just started using red light cameras 1-2 years ago. You can get out of the fine if you sign a sworn affidavit saying it wasn’t you who was driving the car. I think the article mentions being able to positively identify the driver as simply meaning a clear picture was taken of the driver in order to prove/disprove who was driving, in case the owner disputes it.

    It’s no surprise there is a quota and that people would bend rules to fulfill it, but I do think it’s pretty clear that the quotas were established to make sure the cameras are accurate, rather than an arbitrary reason to hand out more tickets.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Most of the laws for such cameras make it explicit that it is not a driver offense, it is a vehicle offense. Just like a parking ticket.

    Thing is, it should be on the state to prove you were indeed the one behind the wheel. I can understand a parking ticket (nobody is in the car…duh), but if someone is actually operating the motor vehicle, I do believe it should be proven a certain operator is responsible for the violation.

    It shouldn’t be that I have to incriminate myself or spill the beans on whomever was driving. The state should prove it.

    We all seem to know that when it comes to motor vehicles, we are all guilty until proven innocent. Why for these violations is it not on the state to prove the individual offender?

  • avatar
    RichardD

    In California the photo of the driver must be clear and match the registered owner’s photo on file with the DMV. What other states and countries do does not apply to this situation.

    It is a real quota because it provides a direct financial incentive for cities and vendors to ignore the positive identification step. In fact, there are many examples where, say, a ticket photo shows a black Excursion but the ticket gets mailed to the owner of a white Miata — all because the camera company gets paid more for processing tickets without verifying accuracy.

  • avatar
    srclontz

    I used to be in favor of yellow light cameras, until they started shortening the yellow. I even thought that that speed cameras could work, but then I put my life in danger by driving 20 MPH less than the flow of traffic in a work zone in Illinois, just because there were speed cameras present and I didn’t want a ticket in the mail. If they built some tolerance into the speed (10 MPH) and the red light cameras (1-2 seconds) , stopped manipulating the yellow light timings, and focused on the worst offenders, it could work and might make things safer. However, that would be expecting common sense from people who aren’t capable of common sense.

    I guess this is what we have to look forward to here in the new USA. By my estimation it is becoming as anti driver as the some of the more restrictive European countries, only without any real public transportation options.

  • avatar
    ppellico

    The point here, I think, is not the legality of the ticket, but the sincerety used when proposing the implementation.
    It was sold as a safety enhancer…not a a means of income.
    I would advise not to run red lights or train crossings.
    But the concept of guessing plate numbers when not fully visible is sort of odd…no, illegal.

  • avatar

    I, too, will play devil’s advocate and suggest that the quote, “The contract sets as the baseline that the company must issue 25 tickets for every 100 alleged violations recorded by the machine” is more of an SLA (service level agreement) to the company that is providing the camera service. What good is a red-light camera if the images that it takes are not able to identify the vehicles committing the infraction? By setting the baseline, the company has an obligation to maintain and support the cameras and not install-and-forget.

    Regardless, I’m not in favor of red-light cameras because it reverses the core belief of the American judicial system: innocent unless proven guilty. A person shouldn’t be charged with an infraction if they cannot be facially identified.

  • avatar
    Mrb00st

    What they do in Australia is assume the owner is driving and responsible, unless you the owner can prove otherwise. If you can’t get someone else to own up to the offense, then you the owner responsible, even if it is clearly not you behind the wheel.

    guilty until proven innocent? Interesting concept.

  • avatar
    cgd

    I agree that these cameras should be illegal since the ticket, as others mentioned, according to our legal system, follows the driver, not the car. The area I live in has put in a few. Aside from the blatant cash grab (these are NOT for safety, don’t kid yourselves) and unconstitutionality of them, I think they might cause more rear-end crashes from people slamming on brakes to avoid a ticket.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    guilty until proven innocent? Interesting concept

    Not at all. Every gotten a parking ticket?

    Your vehicle went through a red and was photographed. You weren’t found guilty of a crime and charged, an asset for which you were responsible was doing something improper and you were fined. If you can prove otherwise, or disprove responsibility, you can fight it in traffic court.

    This, and photo radar, are the same as getting a parking ticket. Your car was somewhere or doing something it should not have done. You are responsible for your car. If it was in the possession of someone else at the time of the offense, there are all sorts of avenues for you to reclaim that fine:
    * If it was family or friends, you should be able to get them to pay you back. If they don’t, well, they’re not going to be in your car again, will they?
    * If it was a dealer or suchlike, you should have a record, and you can go to court for your costs
    * If it was stolen, I’m sure the police would be happy to know that it passed through such-and-such intersection at a certain time, as it makes their recovering it and arresting the thief easier.

    Treating it like a parking ticket is perfectly fair and legitimate, and it’s certainly a better use of resources than having an officer or two sitting in a cruiser, earning a salary for pulling someone over once in a while, often without photographic evidence (a camera is not going to bust you for driving while brown).

    What’s wrong is this misguided attempt to tie the car to the driver at the time (you’re leaving this up to interpretation, not evidence, and utterly failing to address, say, red-light-running in rental vehicles, all in a stupid, pandering attempt to satisfy knee-jerk civil rights lawyers) or shortening yellows for the purpose of generating revenue.

  • avatar
    AggieKnight

    I believe (IANAL) that the same incentive of “I wasn’t the one driving” for the use of camera’s in the states as when you receive a ticket and want to contest it. The state makes it so difficult to fight a ticket that it is time/cost prohibitive to fight them.

    I know, I received a ticket a decade ago for running a stop sign that I did NOT run. At the time I was working as a food delivery guy (in college) and the intersection (on campus) was renoun for having cops giving tickets. Because of this I ALWAYS made sure that I stopped at it. No running, no rolling through. Stop and count. The ticket was ~$150 and I took it all the way to a jury trial, at a cost of more than 60 hours of my time and still lost as the jury went with the cop claiming I ran it vs the college kid.

    Moral of the story, I’m sure anyone could fight the legality of red light tickets, even with laws written to apply to cars not drivers. I’d almost argue that it is unconstitutional to apply moving violations to cars (again IANAL). HOWEVER, it is in the state’s best (monetary) interest to make fighting them as difficult as possible, so that the highest percentage of people suck it up and pay them, rather than fight them, regardless of their guilt.

  • avatar
    hansbos

    As a cyclist who has experienced several near misses by idiots speeding through red lights I am all in favor of these cameras.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    hansbos,

    You might want to check that vs. reality. The reality is that the green light you see is now an unreliable indication of your ability to safely cross the intersection.

    Why? Because they have been shortening the yellows at intersections to increase the revenue from the cameras. The cameras are actually increasing your odds of being hit crossing during a green.

  • avatar
    Henry99

    No one has commented about the Roseville contract, also featured in the original article.

    First a little background, to save you some reading: The contract guarantees something called “Cost Neutrality.” CN supposedly protect the city because under CN the city is not obliged to pay Redflex any more than what the city is receiving in fines – even if that amount is not enough to meet the monthly $6000 rent per camera.

    Now the quota: On page 24 of that contract (see the pdf at the end of thenewspaper.com’s article) it says,
    “Cost neutrality is guaranteed except as follows:
    If city or police waives more than 10 percent of valid violations.”

    So, if the police decide not to issue $400 tickets (yes, that’s what they cost in CA) to nearly everyone who got photographed rolling a right turn, the CN goes away and the camera company is contractually entitled to receive the full $6000, no matter if the city is taking in only a fraction of that. To me, that looks like a quota, with a monetary penalty.

    Discuss?

    Henry99

  • avatar
    Adonis

    Clearly, we people need to respond to this before our country descends to Britain levels of anti-car jihadism. We are well on our way, unless people do something about it. I would recommend to Californians that they petition their senators and governor, and local representatives to get rid of cameras.

    I expect my advice to fall on deaf ears… people don’t care or know enough about the world around them to do anything about problems that come their way.

    What do you think?

  • avatar
    Robstar

    hansbos>

    As a motorcyclist (90% summer driving)/cager (10% summer driver), I’d like to see traffic enforcement against bicyclists.

    I have almost killed 5-6 bicyclists in 4 months (and I’m a VERY light driver…..car, 3-4k miles per year, motorcycle ~ 2k) because they ignore all traffic signs & regulations.

    This includes, but is not limited too:
    1) Running stop signs.
    2) Running red lights.
    3) Riding on the wrong side of the street.
    4) Listening to headphones/not paying attention.

    I almost hit one guy who was listening to his ipod while driving on the wrong side of the street running a red light! I stopped & he never saw me..

    Waiting for the bus the other day, I counted how many bicyclists slowed down (not stopped) for the stop sign at my bus stop and it was 1 in 6.

    Just because it’s their fault when I hit & kill them won’t make me feel any better when it actually happens.

  • avatar
    hriehl1

    I think they should use the dunking technigue used in the 1600s to identify witches in Salem MA… Dunk ’em in water… if they drown, they’re innocent, if they live they’re guilty.

    How have we lost so much control of our society?

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