Why Are States Abandoning Red Light Cameras?

red traffic light next to no turn on red sign
By Andrew Leonatti on July 10, 2019 2:00 PM

You thought you were following the law when you made that right turn on red. But a few weeks later, you get a $75 ticket in the mail, alleging that you rolled across the line a little too casually before making the turn.

The next time you approach that intersection, you slam on your brakes when the light turns yellow, fearful of another ticket. Only this time, the car behind you slams into you.

It these scenarios that led drivers and lawmakers in Texas to mobilize in passing a law outlawing the use of red light cameras statewide. In doing so, it became the eighth state to ban the cameras. 

A Proven Money Maker …

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, municipalities in 25 states and Washington, D.C., employ red light cameras. When deploying the cameras, governments sang their praises for cutting down on red light accidents.

But another factor was money. Before ending the use of red light cameras there in 2011, a study by the city of Los Angeles found that city officials placed cameras where they would generate the most revenue over the most dangerous intersections.

In another study, Suffolk County, New York, made $28.9 million from red light cameras in 2017. They remain in use. The truth is that these cameras can help municipal governments collect much-needed revenue to pay for police, road repairs, and many other expenses that are perennially hard to cover.

... But Not a Proven Injury Preventer?

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a non-profit organization founded by auto insurance companies, studies found “significant” reductions in red light violations and crashes. This includes a Northwestern University study that found injury crashes in Chicago were 10 percent lower after the installation of red light cameras.

A study by Case Western Reserve University, however, found that while the cameras reduced the type of accidents, there was no reduction in total accidents or injuries.

Constitutional Concerns Remain

Another argument commonly used by the public and some lawmakers is that the cameras too often target the license plate and not the driver. That means the right person may not receive the ticket, and it shifts the burden from the state to the defendant to prove that they were not driving the car at the time. This was the main reasoning used when the Missouri Supreme Court invalidated St. Louis’ red light camera law in 2015.

In an attempt to get around this issue, Minnesota authorities are experimenting with a new form of red light camera. The new camera will send live footage to a police car waiting down the road, allowing the officer to personally pull the driver over and issue a ticket.

If you find yourself driving in a state with red light cameras, remember that just like any other type of traffic violation, you have the option of working with a criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.

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