A red-light camera is a method of enforcement of the traffic laws by taking a photographic image when an automobile unlawfully enters an intersection despite that the traffic signal has turned red. Advocates in favor of the red light camera system champion the 'public safety' benefits of deterring reckless driving behavior. On the other hand, there are many that argue that red light cameras are set up for the sole purpose of increasing revenue for the local government under a mere pretense of public welfare but at best is simply unbridled paternalism. While it is true that the use of red-light cameras leads to significant revenue increase for local governments, the debate still ensues as to whether red light camera systems is good public policy.
There is wide variance of red-light camera laws across the United States:
- California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, and Rhode Island, Tennessee broadly permit red light cameras.
- Alabama, Arizona, North Carolina, and Oregon conditionally permit red light cameras so long as the local jurisdiction complies with state standards.
- Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia conditionally permit the utilization of red-light cameras so long as other state or local conditions are met. These conditions usually consist of local permission or population size of the city.
- Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin explicitly prohibit the implementation of any automated red-light cameras to enforce traffic laws.
- Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming have no red-light camera laws.
How to Fight A Red-Light Camera
It is more difficult to dispute a red-light camera ticket by making the claim that the ticket was improperly written. Typically, it is much easier to dispute a ticket received from a police officer based on some sort of human error on the part of the police officer. A red-light camera ticket is less prone to error but there are still some arguments that have proven successful in traffic court:
- A person may be able to invalidate a red-camera ticket by proving that the device had not been working properly at the time of the driver violation. The person would need to formally request the presentation of a “Technician Certificate” or a similar type document in which the state affirms that the camera is working properly.
- A person may be able to invalidate a red-light camera by reviewing the intersection to see if there are any obstructions of signs or other notices that were not visible that made compliance with state or local traffic laws difficult or impossible.
- A person may be able to dispute a red-camera ticket by offering extenuating circumstances such that obedience to the traffic code would have been against public safety. An example would be such that an ambulance or firetruck siren insisted the driver run through the red light in order to keep traffic flowing due to an emergency.
- Some states hold that the driver of a vehicle is responsible for a moving violation or red-light camera ticket and not the owner of the vehicle. In those states, a vehicle owner would need to submit an affidavit to the traffic court that they were not the driver when the camera took the photograph. In certain localities, it may even be possible to discern the person driving the vehicle in the photograph that is included with the ticket. In those instances, a person has a compelling argument that they are not the responsible party.
- A person may be able to dispute the red camera ticket if the car was stolen and the person was not the driver that ran the red light.
A person that receives a red-light camera violation may have a valid defense to dispute the ticket. State laws vary on the penalty for a red-light camera violation, but the penalty is oftentimes for a very small amount. The typical ticket violation is about $50-$75 depending upon the violation. A locality oftentimes charges a smaller penalty for merely making an unlawful right turn at a red light but a larger penalty for running through a red light. There may also be surcharges and processing fees that appear on a ticket violation that must be paid in addition to the violation fee. Red-light camera systems are oftentimes contracted out by the state to third parties to operate the camera technology. Many private companies count on that many drivers do not believe it is worth the time and effort to dispute the violation and will simply pay the ticket.
Red-light camera systems are oftentimes installed and operated by these private third parties and not the state or local government so there is a profit motive to mail out as many tickets as possible. It is incumbent upon a person that receives an unwarranted ticket to dispute the violation because these private companies may be motivated to give as many tickets as possible. In many jurisdictions these private third parties are even contractually obligated to give a set number of tickets or generate a certain amount of revenue within a certain period.