Red Lighting Red Light Cameras: Can We Rely on Asserted Benefits to Justify Documented Shortcomings?

Red Lighting Red Light Cameras: Can We Rely on Asserted Benefits to Justify Documented Shortcomings?

Written by: Mallory Kowalczyk and Michael Papa

Automated Enforcement Programs, more commonly known to citizens as red light and speed cameras, are programs operated by private companies and regulated by states and municipalities independently.[1] Recently, the use of these programs has become a contentious issue across the country. Citizens and lawmakers are concerned, in part, because some municipalities are not complying with the state-mandated reporting of certain information necessary to determine the actual success of the program.[2] This is exacerbated by technological oversights and deficiencies of the actual cameras which  increase costs to citizens.[3]

This December, New Jersey’s five-year red-light ticketing pilot program is set to expire.[4]  While no new bill has been set forth to renew the program, New Jersey legislators have debated the program’s effectiveness.[5] Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican from Monmouth County  and one of the program’s biggest opponents, has stated that if other legislators took a serious look at this system, they “would have had this program revoked and would have stopped ripping off our residents and constituents two years ago.”[6]  Conversely, other legislators note the amount of cars driving in New Jersey daily and the need for mechanisms to deter people from breaking the law. [7]

Similar circumstances surrounding these programs have been a cause for concern throughout New York State. In response, on May 19, 2014, AAA of New York State released an investigative report of the red light camera programs utilized in five participating municipalities in order to aid and inform legislators and citizens about these programs prior to their expiration in December 2014.[8] These particular programs have been held constitutional as being in furtherance of a legitimate government interest in traffic and public safety.[9][10] Whether these programs actually further these interests is hotly debated.[11]

There is no question that these programs present an easy source of revenue for state and local governments. However, the cameras themselves are not foolproof, and their operation presents an array of legal and practical concerns. For example, in New Jersey, the State Judiciary recently requested that local courts throw out 17,000 tickets issued by the cameras because they failed to notify the violators within the allotted ninety days.[12] Additionally, in New York, some municipalities have either been exceptionally late or have, altogether, not supplied the data mandated by the state regarding the effectiveness of these cameras.[13] This is especially troubling because this information is one of the best ways to gauge the program’s success.[14] Some of the omitted data includes crash statistics, financial information, violation data, and results of adjudication. One municipality even submitted misleading graphs.[15]

In Baltimore, a secret audit that was done on the two private companies that operated speed cameras in 2012 “found an error rate of more than ten percent.” [16]  To put that into perspective, “[t]he city issued roughly 700,000 speed camera tickets at $40 each in fiscal year 2012. If 10 percent were wrong, 70,000 would have wrongly been charged $2.8 million.”[17] Furthermore, thirteen of Baltimore’s cameras presented error rates in the double digits, one of them even operating at a 58% error rate. Since most of these tickets only result in a fine with no associated insurance points, many drivers find it  easier to just pay the fine rather than trying  to figure out how to dispute these charges, which could implicate potential due process concerns.[18]

While these cameras aim to deter illegal motorist activity, it appears that the operation needs to be run in a more competent and effective manner. Due to the legal issues embedded within the use of these cameras, the potentially high risk of error, and the vast numbers of citizens that are wrongfully accused and fined with little ability to redress, it seems that legislators need to be certain that these programs are actually furthering the stated goal of public safety, and are not merely aimed at generating a more efficient way to increase revenue, before deciding on the permanency of this solution.

 

[1] Speed and Red Light Camera Laws, Governors Highway Safety Association (Aug. 2014), http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/auto_enforce.html.

[2] Christopher McBride & Alec Slatky, A Review of Red Light Camera Programs in New York State, AAA New York State (May 19, 2014), http://www.aaanys.com/sites/default/files/A%20Review%20of%20Red%20Light%20Camera%20Programs%20in%20New%20York%20State.pdf.

[3] Id. at 2.

[4]  Matt Friedman, Live or Let Die? N.J. Lawmakers Debate Renewal of Expiring Red Light Camera Law, The Star-Ledger (Aug. 26, 2014), http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/08/live_or_let_die_nj_lawmakers_debate_fate_of_expiring_red_light_camera_program.html#incart_m-rpt-1.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] McBride & Slatky, supra note 2, at 1.

[9] Id.

[10] Krieger v. City of Rochester, 978 N.Y.S.2d 588, 595 (Sup. Ct. 2013).

[11] See McBride & Slatky, supra note 2, at 2.

[12] Matt Friedman, 17,000 N.J. Red Light Camera Fines Dismissed Because Drivers Never Got the Tickets, The Star-Ledger (Aug. 21, 2014), http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/08/red_light_camera_malfunction_charged_17000_drivers_without_notifying_them_assemblyman_says.html.

[13] McBride & Slatky, supra note 2, at 4.

[14] AAA: NYS Red-Light Camera Programs Have Dropped the Ball in Reporting Effectiveness, CBS N.Y. (May 19, 2014, 7:03 PM), http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/05/19/aaa-nys-red-light-camera-programs-have-dropped-the-ball-in-reporting-effectiveness/p.

[15] Id.; McBride & Slatky, supra note 2, at 4.

[16] Luke Broadwater & Scott Calvert, Secret Audit Found City Speed Cameras Had High Error Rates, The Baltimore Sun (Jan. 22, 2014), http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2014-01-22/news/bs-md-ci-speed-camera-audit-20140122_1_city-speed-cameras-documented-erroneous-speed-readings-xerox-state.

[17] Id.

[18] See Speed and Red Light Camera Laws, supra note 1.