There’s few feelings more stomach-churning than looking up from your mirror (or radio) and seeing an amber light looming ahead. Do you go for it, or hit the brakes? If the intersection boats red light cameras, the potential fines make a good argument for mashing the pedal on the left.
That’s how the cameras are supposed to work, and a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety finds they do just that. The paper, funded by auto insurers, says removing red light cameras at intersections leads to more collisions.
So, why are some cities scrapping their red light camera programs?
Twenty-fifteen was a tough year for Redflex, the well-known and thoroughly-loathed Australian purveyor of corruption, bribery, and traffic-ticket cameras.
Although the firm’s US arm obtained a small victory in the $300 million lawsuit filed against it by the city of Chicago, getting the case transferred to federal court, Chicago is expanding the scope of its lawsuit in response. Meanwhile, smaller municipalities are abandoning Redflex in droves — and the numbers make it easy to see why.
Last November, citizens of Garfield Heights, OH, banned the use of red light cameras in the city. The vote was close, 4,827 to throw the cameras out against 4,735 for keeping them. But presidencies were decided on a slimmer margin. The keeps the cams side had powerful support: A PAC called “Safe Road Ohio” lobbied for the cameras, with the requisite pictures of little children.
According to the Plain Dealer, the primary donor of this PAC is “Redflex Traffic Systems — the company that operates the city’s camera program and pockets $35 from every speeding ticket issued.” The Garfield Heights Council doesn’t seem to hold democracy in high esteem. Last week, the Council moved to bring the cameras back into the city.
A circuit court judge in St. Louis, Missouri on Friday ruled the city’s use of automated ticketing machines violated state law. Since 2007, St. Louis gave the private company American Traffic Solutions (ATS) the right to issue tickets worth more than $30 million to the registered owners of vehicles that are photographed at local intersections. A class action suit by several motorists challenged the program on various legal and constitutional grounds.
Ohio’s supreme court has a long history of defending traffic tickets, whether they happen to be issued by police or a machine. The court on Wednesday maintained this tradition in tossing out a constitutional challenge to the photo enforcement hearing process, denying the challengers the chance to present their case in full.
The initiative effort to give voters a say in whether red light cameras and speed cameras are used has spread to a fifth city in Washington state. The group BanCams.com began circulating petitions in Redmond, kicking off an effort on Saturday to gather the 3845 signatures required to put the measure on the ballot. The referendum petition follows the language used in Bellingham, Longview, Monroe and Wenatchee where signatures have been gathered since January.
“The city of Redmond and for-profit companies contracted by the city of Redmond may not install or use automatic ticketing cameras to impose fines from camera surveillance unless such a system is approved by a majority vote of the city council and a majority vote of the people at an election,” Redmond Initiative Number One states.
A civil rights think tank on Friday urged Albemarle County, Virginia to cancel its red light program. In a letter to county supervisors, the Rutherford Institute made the case that the contract the county entered into with Australian vendor Redflex Traffic Systems violates the law and will likely not achieve the stated goal of reducing accidents.
“The Redflex contract incorporates a so-called ‘cost-neutrality’ provision whereby the company’s compensation, up to the amount of the contractual monthly fee, hinges on the number of violations or monetary penalties imposed,” the group’s president, John W. Whitehead, wrote. “Regardless of how the fee arrangement is worded or structured, it is likely to be found in violation of Virginia law where the vendor has a financial incentive to ensure that a high number of citations are issued.”
A federal class action lawsuit seeks to take advantage of last month’s California Supreme Court’s red light camera decision. The high court let stand a lower court ruling that invalidated citations on the ground that the city of Santa Ana’s failed to provide the legally required warning periods before activating the automated ticketing machines ( view ruling). Motorist Robert Plumleigh was forced to pay $480 on March 17, 2008 after a camera accused him of turning right at a red light at one of the sixteen intersections where the city failed to provide the required thirty-day warning period. He wants Santa Ana to refund all illegally issued tickets. US District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney on Wednesday gave Plumleigh’s lawyers an extra thirty days to file for class certification.
In July, a three-judge panel of the appellate division of the Superior Court of California in Orange County ruled that red light camera tickets issued at certain intersections in Santa Ana were invalid because the city failed to provide legally required notice. The case was certified for publication, and last month the cities of Santa Ana and West Hollywood petitioned the state supreme court to undo this certification, which is extremely rare for photo ticketing programs. Unpublished cases cannot be cited as precedent in California, and motorists interested in challenging citations will have to repeat from scratch all arguments about the program’s illegality.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s investigation of the Jefferson Parish payroll wrapped up Wednesday, revealing that the parish’s red light camera program was at the center of a scandal that drew the interest of federal investigators. Auditors concluded that former parish President Aaron Broussard and former parish attorney Tom Wilkinson likely violated payroll fraud statutes.
Under court order, Redwood City, California was forced to admit that the red light camera installed at Whipple Avenue and Veterans Boulevard in March 2008 have done absolutely nothing to reduce traffic collisions. San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Clifford V. Cretan instructed the city council to respond to a civil grand jury report from June that blasted municipal programs throughout the county that raised $13.8 million from ticketing despite the lack of evidence of any safety benefit ( read report).
Minneapolis, Minnesota is angry enough at being forced to refund $2.6 million in red light camera tickets that it has filed a lawsuit against the private company it hired to issue those citations. The city last month filed a lawsuit in Hennepin County Court to recover damages, but Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia yesterday asked the US District Court for the District of Minnesota to take over the case.
California’s second highest court on Wednesday upheld the publication status of a key decision that called into question the legitimacy of red light camera evidence. The state Court of Appeal rejected the request of the cities of Santa Ana and Menlo Park to depublish a May appellate ruling of the Orange County Superior Court ( view the California v. Khaled decision) that found the red light camera photographs presented as evidence in court were inadmissible hearsay.
The Las Cruces, New Mexico city council voted Monday to partially obey a New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) to remove red light cameras and speed cameras from the state right-of-way by May 18. State officials are concerned with the negative impact that the devices have on safety, but Las Cruces officials emphasized the need to “work around” the state in expanding the red light camera program even though the city has seen an increase in accidents where photo enforcement has been installed.
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