Putting the Brakes on Red Light Cameras


Traffic cameras—those pesky devices that take pictures of vehicles running red lights and mail tickets to the registered owners a month later—are currently in use in over 450 communities in the U.S. But with evidence mounting that the cameras don't necessarily increase safety, raise expected revenue, or meet legal requirements, many local governments are finally getting rid of them.

Earlier this month, after enduring complaints from various activists, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer allowed the state's two-year-old contract for speed cameras to lapse, effectively shutting down the system of fixed and van-mounted camera speed traps.

The 76 cameras in Arizona didn't produce the revenue stream politicians had anticipated. According to the state, less than a third of the 1.2 million tickets mailed out were ever paid, which meant the government received just $78 million in fine payments—not the $120 million it projected.

Anti-camera activists are also winning in South Carolina and Indiana. And while it may still be a long time before the tide turns completely against traffic camera tickets, some motorists have found ways to beat them in court. From the July/August issue of the National Motorists Association's Driving Freedoms newsletter:

In fighting a red-light camera ticket in Seattle (WA) Municipal Court, Mr. Eros laid out 55 distinct issues in challenging the constitutionality of photo tickets. (His case was dismissed on a technicality, allowing the judge to dodge the need to rule on his motion.).

Among the points made by Eros were a) the denial of the right to confront and cross-examine adversarial witnesses, b) the presumption that the registered owner of the vehicle is guilty, regardless of who was actually driving, thereby destroying the presumption of innocence, c) an unverified chain of control of the alleged (photograhpic) evidence, and d) the lack of scientific reliability of the cameras to warrant unquestioned acceptance into evidence.

The article goes on to cite examples of other motorists winning on similar grounds. Of these, the case of Gant Bloom may be the most applicable:

Bloom's defense was startling in it's simplicity. The photo evidence from the city provided an image of his car, but not of the driver. He testified that both he and his girlfriend drove his car at various times, and since the ticket came in the mail a month after the actual incident, Bloom could not remember which of the two was driving when the car went through the red light.

Casting doubt on the identity of the driver was sufficient for Bloom to win his case. Driving Freedoms suggests that because the cameras hardly ever capture a shot of the driver, this argument is one of the best ways to beat a camera ticket.

Read more from Reason on red light cameras here.