Red-light Cameras

Today’s St. Louis *Post-Dispatch * ran this story (no registration required) about a nearby community looking into installing cameras to take pictures of people running red lights. I like the idea of stopping people from running lights, but this is the part that worries me (my bolding):

My understanding of the law (from high school civics classes back during the Nixon administration and 15 years of watching Law & Order) is that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. They cannot convict me unless they can prove that I drove the car in question and that it is not my responsibility to prove that I wasn’t behind the wheel.

So, first, a question that more suits GQ: Is this the way this is done in other cities with red-light cameras? And, second (the GD question), should this be legal?

But if the law is written in such a way as to give the state the right to penalize the owner of the car (regardless of who might be driving), then what other proof is required besides the picture of the offending automobile?

Yes. The only sticky point has been a possible privacy concern. But I am of the opinion that nobody should expect to have such a high degree of privacy in such a public place as the roadways.

nicely stated.

No Congress or state legislature may write a law which contradicts rights guaranteed under the Constitution which empowers them.

If this procedure were to violate said rights, it would be struck down in court very quickly.

Personally, I think the idea of cameras everywhere, watching everything we do for judgemental purposes sucks ass, and goes contrary to being a nation of free individuals.

It is more desirable that people obey the laws willingly, because they see wisdom in adherence to the rules of society, than to coerce compliance under constant threat of punishment.

That is how things work in NSW Australia. Photos are taken from behind the vehicle to prevent identification of the occupants and a ticket is issued to the registered owner. You can pay the fine or tell them who was driving (if you weren’t) or fight it in court.

When I was married and the car was registered jointly in my name and my wife’s name she was caught by a camera. When the fine arrived in the mail it named me as the guilty party because my name was first on the rego papers. She simply paid the fine without telling me and I ended up losing points off my licence. When I found out much later she just said, “To work I need to drive, you don’t.” Seemed pretty funny at the time.

It’s similar in the UK - and is the standard system for speeding tickets, most of which come from cameras. The registered owner is required to either pay the fine or to identify the driver.

Driving on public roads shouldn’t be seen as an inalienable right - you’re entering an unwritten agreement to obey rules which are in place for everybody’s safety. Complaints about enforcement of these rules being an invasion of privacy seem farcical to me.

I may be wrong about this, or my understanding my be based on something that is no longer the case, but I think in the UK, it’s as GorillaMan says, but failure/refusal to identify the driver is a different/additional class of offence in itself.

I normally loathe Virginia politicians (lotsa right wing nutjobs), but they voted to rip those stupid things out and I applaud them for it.

The District of Columbia, however, have increased their camera use, for speeding as well as red light running. And yeah, you have to tell them who dunnit if it wasn’t you. I got a ticket for running a red light, but all I did was turn right on red. I got the ticket tossed out, thankfully.

This site agrees:

I am generally in favor of red light and speeding cameras, even though I’ve gotten zapped by them like three times in the last year. I’ve never been ticketed by a cop, so I don’t think I’m a crazy driver. But the reason that I favor them is that they really, really do make a difference in the safety of street traffic. On one major thoroughfare near my house, the speed limit is 25, but before a speeding camera was installed, I would estimate that the average speed of vehicles was around 45. It was just silly it was so fast. Now it is down to about 30 miles an hour for several blocks in each direction around the camera. (The camera gives you about 10 mph grace before it takes a picture of you, so you are safe from tickets if you stay at 34 or below… that’s why the average speed is about 30 now.)

But there is a right way and a wrong way to handle these red light and speeding cameras. Right way: take a picture of the driver AND the license plate. Wrong way: take a picture of the license plate and pin the fine on the owner under a presumption the he was driving. That, in my view, is unconstitutional. We know that there are systems that can take pictures of the driver and the vehicle, and it’s pretty clear to me that the only reason that cities don’t invest in this technology is that it is more expensive, and might result in less revenue.

I fully agree with this guy, who is fighting the 18 speeding tickets his car got in DC while he was traveling in Texas. It’s unbelievable that Washington, DC would dare try to make him pay all those tickets.

I’m all for it. I live in a city where light-running is epidemic. Here is an accoung of a blatent violator who tried to take me out back in March.

I don’t really see a problem charging the owner a fine, unless the vehicle was stolen, the owner is a party to the act, and it is useful to know that the seemingly responsible friend/employee/teenaged child you provided your car to is routinely running lights, speeding etc. Hell, I’d support notification of the vehicle’s owner whenever a non-owner driver was cited or even warned by a two-legged, uniform wearing, traffic enforcement device.

There is wide precident, as owners are similarly responsible for parking fines, and running toll booths. If you can charge the owner for allowing thier vehicle to illeagly stand in a no-parking zone, or to illeaglly travel over a bridge, why not charge them with allowing the vehicle to illeaglly traverse an intersection.

I would have “big brother” issues if they were logging the plate numbers of every car that passed through the intersection leagally. The triggered camera amounts to having a cop on duty 24 hrs a day. Snapping a picture of a vehicle on a public roadway which is violating the law IS NOT an envasion of privacy.
Some issues I DO have with this:

-A fine is one thing. Assigning points to the owners license, when the identity of the driver isn’t established, is another. IMO, driving is considered a privlege, rather than a right, only because the automobile hadn’t been invented when the founding documents were written. Outside of a few large cities, living in the US without access to personal transportation is a significant handicap. Considering the ramifications to insurance rates, it’s clearly wrong to consider this a moving violation without due process. It needs to be treated as parking tickets are, even though it represents public endagerment.

-The lights MUST conform to established traffic engineering practice. One of the local TV stations did a piece where they found several intersections (used as “honey patches” by the local police) had yellow lights much shorter than published standards. If the traffic cameras are targeted at improving safety, I’m for them. If they are targeted at revinue generation, that is a problem.

-I would favor provisions that would support the owner in collecting compensation from the offender. In some cases, such as rental cars, this would be trivial to establish, as the renter typically signs a contract that will not allow other parties to drive the car. Just because the owner is responsible for seeing the fine is paid, doesn’t mean the offending party should get off. In the case of rental agencys, the courts wouldn’t need to get involved: if you stuck the rental agency with the fine you’d just be black listed and never be able to rent a car anywhere, from any agency, again…and they could even use it as a positive: If you rent 5 times with no tickets, you get a free upgrade on your next car for example.

I think this question is close enough to the OP not to be a hijack:

Do the red light cameras show enough of the scene to show if a vehicle behind the offender is also running the light, and/or tailgating? On a couple of occasions, I have knowingly run lights on a motorcycle because it was clear that the cage behind me was not going to stop, and presented a greater danger than the stationary cross traffic. It would be nice if the evidence used to charge you showed enough to be useful as a defense.

Same way it runs in New Zealand (and Tasmania). The owner is deemed responsible unless the car is stolen. From memory we do not attach demerits to camera fines - because of the issue of identity. They are used for both speeding and red lights.

There is currently a lot of debate here in Tuscaloosa about it as well. It looks like the state legislature has vetoed it. Yes - the city cannot do a thing with it being approved by the state. Strange system.

Personally I would love to see them here. People run red lights all the time, putting the lives of others at risk.

There was a high profile case in the UK recently . The car was clocked doing 156mph (!) while the driver was on the phone (!!). But when it went to court the car’s owner said it wasn’t him driving and he didn’t know who it was driving.

He got off on a technicality, but his defence was obviously aimed at a weakness in the prosecution. They couldn’t prove it was him, and couldn’t force him to say who it was either. All they could prove was that he was the owner of the car and he looked similar to the person photographed driving.

It was less a fundamental problem with the law than a straightforward cock-up, with the police not following the correct procedures earlier on. They hadn’t at any point supplied the notice of prosecution, which is the point at which the onus is placed on the owner to identify the driver

What if it was shown that these cameras actually increased accidents, IIRC NYC has this problem now. Also perhaps people are speeding on that road because the speed limit is set to low. No this is not a smart ass response, but a serious one. If the limit is set way below the natural speed limit, people being people will excede it, the more you lower it the more poeple will ignore it.

Where I used to live the limit in school zones were 15mph, on a 45mph state highway. This just caused people to totally ignore it, while if it was 35 mph you will have much more compliance. One day, with a cop behind me I slowed down to 15 mph in this zone, and the cop passed me in by using the oncoming lane crossing the double yellow and continuing at the natural speed limit of the road (in the school zone).

More than just an easily misread license number needs to show up on these photos.

In Nebraska, and no doubt many other states the “Q” used on the plates is indistinguishable from the “O” at distances greater than about 20 feet.

Without a large enough color photo of the vehicle to determine color, make, model, body style, etc. there can be an instance in which a bureaucrat is simply going to guess at a bad photo and give a ticket that, let’s say, rightfully belongs to a pickup with the license “OOV 123” to the owner of a minivan with “OQV 123”;forcing the innocent party to take off work to fight a wrongful ticket.

Fair point. But the problem here isn’t the use of cameras, it’s of inadequate requirements regarding plates. UK plates (and most European ones) are much clearer than American ones, and there’s avoidance of using the letter O, for example. This makes fully-automatic systems practicable.

In any case, I don’t see that any camera system wouldn’t show the whole vehicle - and if the tickets are being issued manually, then it’s logical to have part of the procedure checking there isn’t an obvious mismatch between the registered vehicle and that in the photograph.

Suppose I loan my car to my sister. She runs a red light and a cop pulls her over. He issues her a ticket, she pays the fine, the points are applied to her, and her insurance rates (maybe) go up. On the other hand, if she runs a red light where the camera is in place, I get the ticket, the fine, the points, and the extra insurance rates (maybe). That is, unless I take the responsibility of getting her to confess. I wouldn’t worry about getting her to do so — I just don’t understand why this should be my responsibility.

While the red light camera near my apartment has made the intersection better, I don’t like the seemingly higher probability of mistakes.

There wasn’t so much a problem with people racing through a yellow, but rather people rudely blocking the intersection when things get congested. A traffic cop would work better, though I wonder if using the cop for that purpose is cost-effective.


According to this study by the United States Department of Transportation red light cameras have a “modest” decrease in accidents. The decrease in front end and T-bone accidents are partly offset by an increase in rear end collisions. There is a small net decrease in both injuries and economic damage because of the decreased severity of the accidents.

Careful planning of where to put these devices can maximize the decrease in injuries and property damage.