Our own Aurora and the neighboring city of Denver have experimented with red-light cameras. I think it’s a terrible idea, and almost certainly unconstitutional. Here’s an interesting take on the topic. Excerpt:
Speed and red-light cameras are the bane of many motorists. A modern idea made possible by technology, they have been installed in at least 24 states. Although these cameras are a revenue boon for governments across the nation, their intrusion into daily life is disturbing, and their constitutionality is dubious.
Specifically, use of these cameras could violate the Sixth Amendment. The Confrontation Clause grants criminal defendants the right to be confronted with the witnesses against them. Since it is a camera and not a person that witnessed the offense, such violations generally cannot be considered a criminal offense. The ticket is issued to the owner of the vehicle, not to the person driving it, leaving a lack of certainty as to the identity of the offender.
Therefore, the “ticket” in most places is nothing more than a civil fine, making enforcement and collection difficult. To date, governments have avoided this problem by requiring payment of the fine before motorists can renew their driver’s license or auto registration. Although there generally are appeals procedures, they typically do not give drivers a day in court. In other words, what happened to being innocent until proven guilty?
There are several for-profit companies that install and operate the cameras, some of them foreign-owned. In a typical arrangement, a camera company will contract with a local government to pay the capital cost of installing the cameras in exchange for a share of the revenue generated via fines. In short, governments get a new revenue stream without any operating cost, and the camera companies make a tidy profit.
Stop right there. Take a look at that last sentence. Here, read it again:
Did you get that?
In short, governments get a new revenue stream without any operating cost, and the camera companies make a tidy profit.
Now there, True Believers, you have the key to the whole thing. These red light cameras, which almost certainly violate the Sixth Amendment – how can you confront your accuser when the accuser is a camera? – aren’t about traffic safety. They are all about generating revenue for city governments.
Most of the citations issues are civil fines, meaning you have no recourse in the courts. And since these are based on photos of moving vehicles and are focused on the plates, the better to ID the owner, they are issued to the owner of the vehicle. So if you loan your car to a friend, or let your teenager drive, you are fiscally liable for a minor infraction you didn’t commit.
Crap like this lessens respect for the law. It’s capricious, lacks even a pretense of due process, and is clearly and transparently a revenue-generating tool for city governments.
Last year our own Aurora put the issue on the ballot. The residents of our town, yr. obdt. among them, voted to get rid of the cameras. That’s a step in the right direction. Let’s hope more municipalities follow suit.