Do red light cameras reduce traffic violations or increase wrecks?

Although 592 communities across the nation have them, traffic cameras are increasingly coming under fire from critics -- and not just the ones caught by them. The cameras were first used to send tickets to cars they observed running red lights, but many are now used to monitor drivers for speeding and other traffic violations.

This year so far, 66 bills have been proposed around the U.S. to regulate the use of traffic cameras, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. As we mentioned in March, there's currently a traffic camera bill under consideration that would allow them on Staten Island.

Not all of those 66 bills are meant to spread the use of photo enforcement systems, however. There are proposals in several states that would prohibit camera-enforcement for traffic violations like speeding, and some would ban them even at red lights. Twelve states have already banned speed cameras and 9 prohibit the use of cameras for either purpose.

Why? For one thing, there's a constitutional issue. All criminal defendants, including those charged with misdemeanors and traffic offenses, have the constitutional right to confront their accusers, which is why police officers have traditionally been required to present tickets to drivers directly and to appear in traffic court.

The issue becomes a bit clearer if you consider that traffic cameras focus on the vehicle's license plate, not the identification of the driver, when determining that a violation occurred and sending the ticket. Often enough, when people lent out or shared cars, the ticket was automatically assigned to the owner of the vehicle, not the driver.

So, if spouse A's name was on the title but spouse B was driving when the traffic camera clicked, the ticket automatically went to spouse A -- and it wasn't as simple as spouse B agreeing to pay the fine, because traffic tickets have other consequences, such as the assessment of points and associated insurance increases.

Spouse A could appeal, but you're not supposed to have to appeal when the government has no proof that you are personally guilty of a crime.

Other opponents of the cameras point out that the evidence is mixed at best as to whether they improve traffic safety. A 2008 study in the journal "Florida Public Health Review" actually found that they caused more accidents -- and more serious accidents -- than before.

Still, a New York Times FOIA request found that, in Washington, D.C., a single speed enforcement camera on New York Avenue generated over $11 million in only two years. So, if we're willing to prioritize city revenues over the rights of traffic defendants, traffic cameras are likely here to stay.

Source: The New York Times, "Traffic Cameras Draw More Scrutiny by States," Emmarie Huetteman, April 1, 2013

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information
Visa Master Card American Express Discover Network