It should be enough to say that red light cameras are a violation of one’s Constitutional rights. Not only are the accused not given their right to Due Process under the 5th Amendment, but there is no way to cross-examine your accuser as afforded under the 14th Amendment. However, those who support the cameras often turn a deaf ear to those arguments.
In truth, red light tickets are very hard to enforce. Since there is no court date on the notice, as they are not issued by the courts but instead by the companies operating the cameras, they are not a legal notice to appear. The cameras take two photos: one of the driver, and one of the license plate. What if you weren’t driving the car? People have even placed masks or cardboard cutouts over their faces so that the camera cannot take their photo. If the photo doesn’t match the owner on record, they’re usually discarded.
The objections to red light cameras don’t stop there. It’s very difficult to maintain that they reduce traffic collisions. Whatever side impact or “T-bone” accidents may be avoided, they are more than made up by rear-end collisions caused when a driver stops short at a yellow light. By doing so, you’re gambling that the driver behind you sees the light in time to stop. What do you do when someone is tailgating you? We’ve all been in that situation, where stopping would cause the other driver to plow into the back of your car or swerve around you, potentially hitting another vehicle. In these cases you are stuck between endangering another driver, or facing a ticket.
Then there’s the manipulation of the timing of the yellow lights themselves. The State of California has established minimums for how long a light should remain yellow, depending on road speed. Several cities have been found to be operating yellow lights below guideline standards where red light cameras were present. In 2005, Union City, California was caught trapping motorists with a yellow signal time 1.3 seconds below the minimum established by State law. As a result, the city was forced to refund more than $1 million in red light camera fines.
The shorter a yellow light is the more tickets are sent out. At one intersection in Loma Linda, the number of tickets dropped 90% the month after the yellow light was extended by one second. Eventually these cameras were no longer economical to maintain, and all were promptly removed. Loma Linda decided to extend the yellow lights by one second for the purpose of creating a safer intersection. “I believe these red light cameras are ways for city governments to legally extort money from their citizens,” said Mayor Rhodes Rigsby, who decided to dump the cameras once Loma Linda’s contract with Redflex ended.
Currently, the city of Victorville and Arizona-based Redflex are fighting a Federal class action lawsuit filed by attorney Robert Conaway, who believes these cameras are unconstitutional. Victorville city council members have said they would like to cancel their contract with Redflex, but have no legal way of doing so.
That brings us to the excuse most city councils give when discussing their red lights: the contract with the company operating the cameras such as Redflex. If a council truly wanted to provide incentive for Redflex to nullify the contract one would simply need to make the use of these cameras uneconomical. When an accused receives their ticket, they have the right to challenge it, which requires the presence of a police officer in court. In cities that contact with the Sheriffs Department for policing, a deputy is called upon to testify. What are they testifying? The officer wasn’t present at the time of the alleged violation, and may not have even reviewed the video or the photos. If the Sheriff simply decided that deputies would no longer respond to contest the accused, the defendants would win by default. It wouldn’t take long before Redflex voluntarily removed their cameras and nullified their contracts.
Thankfully we have a candidate for Sheriff of San Bernardino County who would be more than willing to go against these unconstitutional red light cameras, Paul Schrader. Paul Schrader is running on a constitutional platform and has publicly stated that he believes red light cameras are indeed against our 5th and 14th amendment rights. If elected, he would decline to send deputies to uphold these tickets.
For the record, I myself have never received one of these so-called “snitch” tickets.
Michael E. Kelly