Traffic cameras cause legal conundrum — locally and abroad

Red-light camera sign

Red-light camera sign

My column in this past Sunday’s Daily News (Perspective, page 5B) prompted a flood of legal opinions and unsolicited advice on what I should do about a speeding ticket received in the mail.

The column detailed how Arizona is now using cameras to catch speeders, much the way cameras are used to catch red-light runners in Collier County.

To recap:

My son lives in Phoenix and still drives a car registered to me in Florida. On a pitch-black night two Sundays ago he drove along a camera-monitored section of state highway between Phoenix and Tucson. The camera system detected the car was traveling 60 mph in a 45 mph speed zone. It also produced a series of photographs clearly showing the driver (shot through the windshield) and the license plate (shot from the rear). My son was unaware he tripped the speed detection system until I told him I had received the traffic ticket in the mail.

The Pina County (Ariz.) Sheriff wants me to pay $226.25 by Feb. 22 or sign a “Declaration of Non-Driver” form. The form reads:

“If you were not the driver you may identify the driver in the space provided below. Sign this form and mail it in the enclosed envelope. You must include an enlarged, clear copy of your driver’s license to request to exclude yourself as the driver.”

Signing the form and reporting the identity of the driver is one of four options offered on the traffic citation.

The others are:

1. Admit responsibility and pay the fine.

2. Request a court hearing by entering a mailed-in plea of “Not Responsible.”

3. Attend defensive driving school.

Before I share the advice sent in by readers, including those Arizona, let’s examine how the speeding-camera system works:

“The Pima County Sheriff’s Department uses Axsis Photo Safety equipment. The speed measurement system incorporated at monitored locations uses in-road embedded sensors. When a vehicle exceeds the speed threshold a digital image is captured to record the license plate and vehicle type; a second digital image is captured to identify the driver. The date, time, speed and location of the infraction is recorded on the digital image and on the citation.”

So two cameras are used — one facing traffic and the other shooting from the rear — and they are triggered by sensors in the pavement that can detect a vehicle’s speed.

This system has caused quite an uproar in Arizona, similar to the uproar in Collier County over the legality, accuracy and appropriateness of the red-light cameras.

Here’s some legal advice sent to me by Arizona residents after my column was published:

“You probably received a ‘Notice of Violation’ in the mail. Double check the document. If it contains the text ‘notice,’ this is not a citation, and does not list the address of the Pima county courthouse, then it is not an actual photo radar citation. There are no legally binding liabilities on your part and you are not legally required to rat out the person in the notice. I received a similar one last month. My wife was apparently doing 59 in a 45 zone, right past one of the fixed camera locations in Tucson,” wrote Kris Staller of the Tucson area.

“The people of Arizona are in a state of revolt against these cameras and have started several voter initiatives that will outright ban the use of fixed location and mobile radar vans by the state. Soon to follow will be initiatives to ban them in county and municipal jurisdictions as well. One of our state representatives has introduced legislation that will also curtail the timing of red-light cameras to throw out any infractions within the first one-second of the light turning red. Too many tickets have been thrown out in court where different lights in the intersection were red and yellow simultaneously, or were triggered in the milli-second range of timing once all of the lights were red.

“I drive the speed limit and stop for red lights, but have been nailed a couple of times by the cameras thanks to the actions of more aggressive drivers around me. I’ll be running at the speed limit and someone will blow past me in the left lane. They’ll spot the radar van, hit the brakes, and then run a couple of mph below the limit, making me the driver out front who is faster. The cameras always flash, but fortunately, I have not received a citation. This is due to the nature of the photo radar vans. They cannot differentiate which vehicle was the one speeding. If two or more vehicles are in the captured picture, then they throw out the citation. ... Fixed location camera systems use individual pressure sensors in the pavement in each lane and are able to tell which driver in congested traffic is the one speeding. This is likely where your son was photographed.

“My notice of violation wanted me to tell Redflex who was driving my van and wanted me to spend 44 cents on a stamp in order to help them issue the ticket. My position is that if they want to know who is driving my van in violation of the speed limit, then they need to have an officer of the law present in the speed enforcement zones. Only a live officer is capable of d etermining who was in control of the offending vehicle and will actually put the fear of God into a speeding driver who is putting other drivers at risk (that will make them change their behavior).”

Then there was this from a Mr. Ownsby in Arizona:

“I sincerely hope that you reconsider informing the authorities in Arizona as to the identity of the driver (your son) caught speeding in your vehicle. Please take a moment to think about these points:

“1. Simply mailing a photo traffic enforcement citation is not considered legal service in the state of Arizona. Lawyers have already verified this multiple times and the local public only respond to such citations approximately 32 percent of the time. A process server is required to make it stick and Redflex (the company holding the contract to operate the cameras) does not waste the time or effort outside of the state.

“2. Numerous stories have been presented in the media on the inaccuracy of the cameras, violation of FCC guidelines to get them established, failure of the camera vans to be placed in accordance with the law, improper signage, and more. From the detail of his ticket, it sounds as though he was caught in a work zone. Think about it, does anyone really go the suggested speed limit in these areas? If they do, how often are they tailgated and honked at?

“3. All citations are to be reviewed by three humans, one being a police officer, to verify that the photo captured matches the photo of the drivers license of the vehicle registration owner. Numerous stories show that this is not the case, as innocent drivers are ticketed, like yourself. Sports figure Larry Fitzgerald is another person recently, who received six speeding citations. The driver in the citation photos was white and Fitzgerald is black.

“As a journalist, I am sure that you are very capable of researching the facts that I have presented yourself. You may be surprised at what you find. Just be careful to look for reliable studies that were not commissioned by the very companies or government agencies that make money from photo traffic enforcement.”

I also received correspondence from readers who shared how traffic enforcement cameras are used in other countries.

Switzerland

“Years ago I was frequently in Zurich and on one trip noticed new gray boxes in the street medians. I was told they were radar cameras catching speeders. But on the next visit they were gone. I was told it was a privacy issue. As with your son being caught on camera with his girlfriend, that was often the case in Zurich also — only there were at times a surprised wife back home. Since the advent of red-light cameras I have wondered how this privacy issue been rationalized.”

Canada

“Why do Americans say they support the laws and yet love to violate them. Our existing traffic laws are totally disregarded! and yet we scream when penalized. In Alberta, on the highways, they have cameras under the bridges and signs telling you they are there. These 70-mph speed limits are universally obeyed. Yes, obeyed. You know you are violating the law and can expect a speeding ticket in the mail. No high-speed chases. No police cars traveling 100 mph tempting an accident…”

Great Britain

“Having just read your article regarding speed cameras I thought you may be interested to hear how they work in the UK. I am an ex-pat living here in Naples and enjoying everyday of the sunshine. During the last decade, and maybe even before that, cameras of all types have been erected all across the UK to catch various types of traffic violation. The number of speed cameras has now reached about 6,000 across the country, 2,500 of them being mobile speed cameras.

“The number of fixed penalty fines issued in England and Wales has risen seven-fold from around 260,000 in 2000-2001 to 1.8 million in 2003-2004. Speed cameras are reportedly currently netting more than £20m a year profits for the treasury. Motorists caught by the cameras have three points added to their license and pay a £60 fixed penalty.

“There are many different types of camera; the main ones being a permanently mounted one that can be seen by a motorist and in my opinion does slow traffic down only for the motorist to speed up again straight away. This would be very useful for example outside a school but the vast majority are on roads where the speed limit changes and you may not realize it.

“A new camera that has been brought out recently is the SPECS, SPECS average speed camera systems utilize state of the art video system with Automatic Number Plate Reading (ANPR) digital technology. Consisting of a minimum of two cameras each fitted with infrared illuminators fitted on gantries above the road, so they can work day or night. SPECS speed cameras work out the vehicles average speed, given the time it takes to drive between the two camera positions.

“A single speed camera in Nottinghamshire has caught almost 76,000 motorists in five years. The SPECS speed camera, on the A610, has caught almost a third of the speeding drivers in the county and has resulted in £4.2m in fines.

“The amount of cameras now being used on the UK roads has led to Satellite Navigation Systems such and Tom Tom to pre-install known camera positions into their units.

“The law states that a camera position must be clearly marked by a sign at a pre-determined position to warn the driver of a camera. This led to some foreign tourists stopping to take a picture at the sign thinking it was marking a beauty spot!

“I am sure that the United States is going along the same route (Excuse the pun!) as the UK has so all I can say is smile.”

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 1

srd275 writes:

Time to ban these devices. They were never put in for safety. Heck the vendors REQUIRE violations to make it profitable. We have alread seen that most RLC tickets are for right turns on red or stopping over the stop line. Further most of the crashes are plus 5 into red, not the under a second they go after which too many of those point to need for longer ambers.

Ban the cams, lenghten the ambers!

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