Criminal Law

Traffic Cameras Aren't Fool Proof

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A Missouri appellate court has upheld a local red-light camera ordinance, ruling it doesn't violate due process.

The owner of a vehicle which was caught by a red-light camera claimed the ticket she received violated her due process rights because the ordinance imposes liability on the vehicle owner, not the driver. The court disagreed. It said Missouri law lets a city fine a vehicle owner if another person operates the vehicle in violation of the city's ordinance.

While the city's ordinance penalizes the vehicle's owner, the law in your state may differ. If the law penalizes only the car's driver, you may still successfully challenge a red-light camera ticket in court.

Original Artcle

Across the US, many places use cameras to catch drivers violating traffic laws. They see drivers speeding, ignoring red lights, and running railroad crossings. Cameras may do some good, but they're far from flawless.

Smile, You're on Traffic Camera

Traffic cameras generally serve two purposes. They're supposed to keep us safer by reducing accidents. They also put money into the public coffers - traffic tickets mean money. Plus, unlike human cops, they work 24/7 and don't take breaks.

The two goals clash at times, though.

Mistaken Identity?

For example, an Illinois driver got the unpleasant surprise of a traffic ticket in her mail. She was "caught" speeding by a camera.

The problem is, the car captured on film didn't belong to her; she didn't look anything like the driver; and she's never been in the area where the offense happened. Her maiden name led police to mistake her for an area car-owner who had the same last name.

She got out of the ticket, but it wasn't easy to do.

Safe, eh?

The pro-camera argument is easy enough to understand. Catching speeders, light-runners, and other violators protects everyone. The violators, other drivers, and pedestrians are all safer when traffic laws are obeyed. Ticketing violators helps make sure the laws are obeyed.

Sounds good, right? The problem is, many reports say cameras make things less safe. This is especially true at red lights and intersections: Drivers see the camera, slam on the breaks, and BAM! Rear-end collision.

What You Can Do

When it comes to accidents, the most you can do is pay attention and follow the rules, and:

  • Don't speed
  • Slow down before getting to intersections, whether or not you know or think there's a camera
  • Keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead of you

If you get into an accident, you should probably talk to an attorney. You want to make sure the other driver - and maybe even the city or town - is held responsible for any injury or property damage you might have.

Things may get a little more complicated when questioning tickets. Like the Illinois driver found out, local police may not be willing to cancel a ticket, even when there's overwhelming proof you didn't break the law. Here's what you can do:

Talk to the local police and try to explain the mistake. It may not work, but it's a place to start.

Traffic Court

Get ready for traffic court . Before you show up on the court date noted on your ticket:

  • Have copies of your car registration and pictures of your car, including the license plate. This information is used to match information obtained from the camera's images
  • Check the local police department's web site to see if it posts images captured by traffic cameras online. If so, study the image that captured your car very carefully. Is it actually you and your car?
  • If you can read the license plate, contact your motor vehicles department for help finding out who owns the car
  • Be prepared to challenge the evidence against you. In court, ask questions like:
    • How can you tell this is my car from this fuzzy picture?
    • When was the last time the camera was checked to make sure it's working properly?
    • Is it possible the car ahead of me triggered the camera and it was that car, not mine, that ran the light?
    • If possible, bring a witness who can tell the court you weren't in the area where the offense happened, This is called an alibi

    Everyone wants safe streets. But the cost of that safety shouldn't have to be paid by drivers who've done nothing wrong.   

    Questions for Your Attorney

    • I paid a traffic ticket by mail but now I want to fight it in court. Is it too late?
    • I got a camera ticket because my son ran a red light in my car. Do the points go against my license or my son's?
    • To fight a ticket I'll need to take a day of vacation, pay for a babysitter, and spend close to $100 in travel expenses. Should I just pay the ticket?
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