State lawmakers seek a red light on traffic camera programs
Illustration: Elliot Ward.
Up until a few years ago, the only driving-related photograph Ohio’s drivers worried about was the one on their driver’s license. Since then, the state has set up what are called speed and red light cameras to take photographs of drivers speeding and passing through red lights at intersections. Red-light cameras catch an image of a vehicle as it crosses the white stop bar at an intersection after the light turns red, and then it snaps another image showing the vehicle passing through the intersection. Cameras detecting speed work in a similar way. Those images are then sent to the municipal authorities and an official examines them and decides whether a traffic violation has occurred. If so, a ticket is issued to the owner of the vehicle. Unlike a traditional traffic stop by a police officer, citations from these cameras do not tarnish a motorist’s driving record, and insurance companies remain unaware of them as well. The violator merely pays a fine.
Lately, though, there has been some activism in Ohio seeking to end red light and speed camera use. Back in June, the Ohio State House voted to ban the cameras, and now the issue is before the state Senate. So far, 15 Ohio municipalities use the cameras, including Dayton and surrounding cities. In place of the ban, talk has been raised about reforming traffic-camera programs, but sponsors of the bill seek only an outright ban. The use of these cameras and the proposed ban raises issues ranging from safety to economics to constitutional violations.
Supporters of the bill cite several reasons for the push to ban the cameras. For one, they say this is just another use of technology to advance Big Brotherism at the expense of privacy. Critics also call the traffic camera programs a municipal money grab and a scam using violations to raise money. They say these camera programs operate on questionable constitutional grounds because violators who suffer the weight of the law never see their day in court. They cite other problems, such as possible camera malfunction and unusual circumstances the camera cannot evaluate, both of which lead to unjust citations.
Opponents of the camera ban have taken a stand as well. They acknowledge the citations bring in revenue, but it comes at the expense of lawbreakers. Besides, they say, without that revenue, cities such as Dayton, Trotwood and Springfield would be out several hundred thousand dollars, which could lead to job and service cuts. Safety, however, is the real issue with opponents of the proposed bill. The cameras are seen as deterrents, and the claim is in areas where cameras are placed, accidents have greatly decreased – especially right-angle crashes.
Electronic surveillance is big news these days, and traffic cameras are part of the discussion as advocates of increased safety clash with people fearing questionable government intrusion. Supporters of the traffic camera ban want to stop what they believe is the abuse of technology for financial gain by cities and camera manufacturers. The bill’s opponents insist the cameras are making a difference by creating safer roads without the use of extra law enforcement personnel.
Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at AlexCulpepper@DaytonCityPaper.com
Commentary Forum Question of the Week:
but a recent Ohio bill seeks to ban them statewide.
Should Ohio’s red-light and speed cameras be banned as law enforcement tools?
Red-light and speed cameras need to go the way of the dodo
By Rob Scott
As an attorney, I get asked many different questions about areas of law or situations that folks get into. A common one is, “What should I do if I get pulled over and I have had a few drinks?” Or, “I received this letter in the mail.” However, by far the most common question lately has been regarding the speed and red light cameras.
Their prevalence in the Miami Valley is increasing, meaning more tickets are being issued. I have successfully represented someone who received a ticket from a speed or red light camera.
The process of defending against the red light and speed cameras is perplexing. If a driver appeals their traffic citation, they are required to put up money, or bond, before being able to appeal. Then the appeal is heard at a hearing before an administrative officer within the municipality’s police department, not a neutral decision maker. The hearing is where the evidence is presented for and against the alleged traffic law violator.
The typical traffic defense is to ask whether the cameras were properly calibrated and when the last calibration took place, ensuring that they are operating correctly. Other defenses range from not being the driver, not knowing who was driving and special circumstances.
Shedding light on the arguments either way, the proponents of the speed and red light cameras claim they protect lives, assist in enforcing traffic laws and free up police resources in other areas. Typically, the proponents are municipalities who gain monetarily, using a private entity that provides all the equipment, installation and maintenance of the equipment. Most of the contracts allow for 40 percent of the ticket revenue to go to the private entity and the other 60 percent to the municipality.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Traffic Safety Report in 2008, the agency found that intersections with red-light cameras have fewer severe collisions, such as “T-bone collisions” in which a driver or passenger takes the full impact of an oncoming car.
However, there is new research from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute in August 2011 showing red light cameras do not reduce all kinds of accidents in every location. After studying 254 intersections in 32 Texas towns, researchers observed when cameras were placed at intersections where drivers frequently ran through red lights, the number of serious crashes declined by up to one-third.
Despite this, there was an increase in dangerous rear-end collisions. Meanwhile, at intersections where red-light violations were infrequent, installing cameras just increased rear-end collisions, without reducing the number of other kinds of accidents.
The opponents of the speed and red light cameras argue due to the constitutional right to face your accuser, it is very difficult to confront a machine, meaning there is not an officer of the law witnessing the alleged traffic law violation. The other argument against the machines is many times they malfunction or cannot prove necessarily who is driving the vehicle. And, the obvious argument, the cameras are solely revenue generators for the municipalities.
Currently, the Ohio Senate is debating whether to ban the red light and speed cameras. The Ohio House passed House Bill 69 in a 61-32 calling for an outright ban of red light and speed cameras in Ohio.
Legally, there have been a number of suits challenging the constitutional validity of the red light and speed cameras, including the administrative process of appealing the traffic citations.
In Walker v. City of Toledo, the Ohio Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the city of Toledo unconstitutionally usurped the jurisdiction of the Toledo Municipal Court by diverting challenges to the violation notices to an administrative hearing officer set up within the police department, in violation of Ohio Constitution, Article IV, Section 1. The court also held, assuming as true the ticketed driver’s allegations that Toledo had no administrative appeal process, the ticketed driver presented a valid claim for a due process violation.
In March, a Hamilton County judge issued an injunction against the village of Elmwood Place’s use of speed cameras, calling the system a moneymaking “scam the motorists can’t win.” Three months later, the court found the village in contempt of his decision and ordered the sheriff’s office to confiscate the cameras.
Also, in Franklin County, there are two pending suits challenging the constitutionality of the red light cameras. Also, both lawsuits seek restitution for all motorists who have paid a penalty based on a photo taken of their license plate as they drove through an intersection as far back as 2007.
Ultimately, the argument is regarding individual due process rights under the U.S. Constitution and Ohio Constitution. Though the traffic citations from the red light and speed cameras are only civil and are never part of a drivers record, they still come with stiff fines. Also, though insurance companies currently are not using them to determine driver’s insurance rates, they most likely may in the future.
The Ohio General Assembly is going down the correct path in possibly reforming or outlawing them due to municipalities’ overreach. In my opinion, appropriate due process safeguards and processes must be in place if they remain, but I would like them to go the way of the dodo.
Rob Scott is a practicing attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party and founder of the Dayton Tea Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org orgemcitylaw.com.
Photographing the end of civilization
By Ben Tomkins
“Hi Ben & Rob – Well, it looks like this week is a commentary, as no one supports red light cameras apparently.”
Keep in mind this is from the liberal media as well. Remember us? The socialist, wealth-spreading-around, big government whiners who are taking away everyone’s rights and steadily speeding our country towards a godless grave?
Yeah. We can’t even stand those things, and the reason for it is very simple: nobody has ever broken a traffic law in the history of all time and eternity unless there was a police officer there to see it.
OK, that’s not entirely true. I engage in behavior that would constitute “running a red light” all the time. However, the reason I do that is because I am forced to by the assholes who plague our streets and clog our intersections by casually taking a fourth sip of coffee before moving into the intersection when we all have to go to work at 7 a.m. and the green turn arrow that lasts for four seconds is the only reprieve turning motorists have from the otherwise interminable length of the other lights.
For those of you who are terrible human beings, here are the rules:
1. If you are first in line at an intersection, you have an obligation to get the hell through there as fast as humanly possible to ensure the maximum number of cars behind you can get through. I’m talking Muhammad Ali/Sonny Liston here, and that analogy is perfect. The rest of us already hate you, and if you don’t clear your dumb ass out of the way of our car, we are all going to kill you. And yes, I said “hate.” There’s Hitler, and then some order of you, Al-Qaida and red light cameras after that depending on where that particular intersection is located.
2. Every car gets no more than one second to be up to speed – and that’s an extremely generous upper bound I might add – or the driver is officially an asshole and deserves to be the victim of any and all unsafe passing maneuvers and verbal abuse heaped upon them.
3. The job of the last person in line is to enter that intersection directly at or slightly after the moment that the light turns red so as to take advantage of the two extra seconds of solid red in both directions before a green light occurs and therefore make one less person wait at the next light. Dad, I’m sorry. That’s how it works.
Dad: There they go again. Through on the red.
Me: Yeah, it sucks. What with the seatbelt laws in this town I can’t give them the standing ovation they deserve.
Now, my point in telling you all this is not to complain about other people’s driving. Well, yes it is, but it serves the dual function of also pointing out why red light cameras should be eliminated.
You see, this whole “civilization” thing we’ve got going is far, far more tenuous that one might think. Look around you – the roads, cars, all that stuff – it’s all possible because our social contract states that when someone irritates us we will wait slightly longer than a baboon before tearing off their face. And I do mean slightly. The public roads are the social equivalent of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, and by far and away are the clearest example of what I’m talking about. Nowhere else on the planet could the slightest movement of your thumb to send a text be considered grounds for public decapitation.
So, when we talk about running red lights, there is running a red light and there is running a red light. Yes, the idiot who flagrantly blows through a red light at 90 miles per hour deserves a ticket and a stoning because they are perpetrating the far more heinous crime of forestalling the cars desperately attempting to turn left at the green arrow. However, the individual at the tail end of the arrow line whose bumper fails to break the plane of the red light camera’s tolerance by a micrometer in the interest of perpetuating a civil society is a hero.
Finally, perhaps there are some of you who believe that the statistics concerning traffic accident reduction are reason enough for these cameras. Well, you know what? You are a monster, and you clearly need to sit your ass down and consider the greater human toll these things inflict on society.
For instance, in 2006 when Dayton established the red light camera policy:
1. The murder rate increased almost 16 percent
2. Assaults increased by a whopping 48 percent
3. Arson increased by 17 percent
In contrast, all crimes not pertaining to angry driving, such as rape and burglary, all went down.
You may think that I’m abusing statistics for personal satisfaction. Perhaps you think my policy on red light running is dangerous and hateful. Well, you’re wrong. These cameras are forcing otherwise decent motorists to ignore the social constructs of transportational decency that keep our delicate adrenaline glands in check and allow us to move forward as a species in a hostile world. Go to hell.
Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at