Running a red light can be quite costly. In addition to the fine (upwards of $500 in some places), the points on your driving record (1, 2, 3 or more depending on where you live) can result in higher car insurance premiums. It’s bad enough when you get popped by a cop. But receiving a red-light ticket in the mail is truly annoying. How can they prove it was you and not someone else driving your car? What’s the margin for error with the equipment? And isn’t this a violation of your privacy and right to face your accuser? If you have those concerns, you’re not alone.
This week the Los Angeles Police Commission voted unanimously to kill the city’s red light camera program. It is, to date, the largest U.S. city to join a backlash against the red light camera programs. Along with individual municipalities, nine states have banned the cameras, including Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Wisconsin, according the National Conference of State Legislatures. Why the uproar over something that its proponents claim is highly effective at reducing speeding and saving lives and preventing serious injury?
Opposition to traffic photo enforcement ranges from invasion of privacy and violation of constitutional rights to due process to ineffectiveness and cost-inefficiency. Some even think the programs are nothing more than a money-grabbing scheme instituted by cash-strapped state and local governments. They also point out that since payment of the tickets in many instances is voluntary, the worst offenders simply ignore the fines while the law abiding pick up the tab. And they question the validity of claims that the programs prevent accidents, countering that rear-end collisions may actually increase as drivers slam on their brakes to avoid being caught running a light on camera.
Meanwhile, cases are clogging courts as defense lawyers contest the way camera operators identify and ticket car owners. Every success encourages others to go to court, exacerbating the problem. The revenue from tickets weighed against enforcement and prosecution costs can render the red light camera systems anything but cost-neutral.
Proponents of photo law enforcement admit that the systems may be money machines for local governments, but adamantly maintain that they are effective deterrents to one of the leading causes of serious traffic injuries and death. They point out that occupant injuries occur in 45% of red-light running crashes, compared to 30% in other crash types. Nationally, drivers who run red lights are responsible for about 260,000 crashes per year, 1,000 deaths and 200,000 injuries, at an annual cost of $14 billion.
Your best strategy is to avoid a red-light camera traffic ticket and avoid increases in your car insurance. Stay focused while you’re at the wheel, don’t speed up when a light turns yellow, and come to a full stop at red lights before making a turn.