How Red Light Tickets May Violate Your Legal Rights

Cars drive past a red light camera sign - Mario Tama/Getty Images

Cars drive past a red light camera sign – Mario Tama/Getty Images

Everyone hates red light cameras. Few things are more infuriating than getting a surprise ticket in the mail, a month or so after an alleged infraction occurred. Not only that, but the very presence of these cameras, and the driving public’s awareness of their presence, has been proven to make the roads less safe, leading to accidents and have even been abused by municipalities looking to pad their revenue sheets.

All in all, the addition of red light cameras to many of the country’s intersections is turning out to be a bad idea. But there’s news emerging now that they may be violating people’s rights under the law as well. If that’s true, it would pave the way for the industry’s collapse.

A report out of Dallas-Fort Worth NBC affiliate NBCDFW.com says that there is currently legislation in the works in the Texas state government that would effectively disable these cameras in the entire state. The cameras, which are installed and operated by private companies under contract from individual cities and municipalities, “have failed miserably,” according to state Republican Senator Bob Hall. Though the cities are able to bring in considerable amounts of money through automated ticketing, the costs are clearly starting to outweigh the benefits, at least in the eyes of Texans.

Texas isn’t alone, either. Many other states have banned the cameras, citing safety concerns. But there is one huge flaw in the entire system that has really been overlooked for quite some time: drivers who are sent tickets are not given the legal right to face their accusers, the camera companies. That is a violation of the right to due process, included in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

Essentially, the camera companies are blindly sending out tickets, and those accused of having run red lights don’t get a chance to defend themselves. Unlike when an infraction is issued by a police officer — who actually needs to show up in court in order to allow ticketed individuals the chance to defend themselves — automated ticketing systems do not afford the accused that right.

Think of it this way: when you are pulled over for speeding, the state has a witness (a police officer) who has evidence that a violation has been committed. A citation is issued, and if the accused wishes to protest, they can take it to court. The state will then provide the evidence and a witness to build the case against you. When the camera is involved, this process falls apart. Without photographic evidence of a specific driver behind the wheel, the wrong person could even end up having a ticket issued to them.

This obviously pokes a hole in the entire system, and could lead to drastic changes for municipalities hoping to continue using red light cameras. For the numerous businesses that actually make up the industry, this could be a catastrophic oversight that leads, ultimately, to further state and federal bans.

Speaking of the feds, there is a push in the nation’s highest legislatures to put an end to red light cameras. According to The Denver Post, Congressman Ed Perlmutter introduced a bill earlier this year that would do precisely that, although it is likely to find little traction in the Republican-dominated House and Senate.

“Automated traffic technology should be used for improving public safety purposes rather than local governments relying on these devices to generate revenue. My constituents tell me these cameras are excessive and seem to do little to improve public safety,” Perlmutter said.

If these cameras are, banned nationwide at some point, the losses in revenue for both local governments and the private companies themselves will be immense. A USA Today report from 2013 says that at that time, more than 500 communities in 24 states and Washington D.C. used red light cameras, and in some states, revenues topped more than $100 million annually.

For many residents, it’s clear that the cameras are not about safety, but about collecting revenue, and can even be equated with a sneaky tax increase. Not only that, but the legal holes in the justification for using these cameras may be their ultimate undoing.

People clearly don’t like them, and they may have a legal basis to justify it.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

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