New Jersey Shuts Down Red Light Cameras In 21 Cities After Finding They Don’t Meet Legal Requirements For Yellow Light Timing

June 21, 2012

NEW JERSEY – The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) yesterday ordered a halt to red light camera ticketing in 21 cities. The agency became concerned drivers are being shortchanged and the law violated after learning that 63 of 85 photo ticketing intersections failed to meet legal requirements for yellow signal timing. The agency prohibited ticketing at these locations pending certification of each individual intersection’s timing.

“It has come to the attention of the department that the pilot program legislation specifies a formula to determine the proper duration of the yellow light in a traffic signal that differs from the legally required, nationally accepted formula that NJDOT or municipalities use when installing traffic signals,” NJDOT explained in a statement yesterday.

NJDOT said any camera operating with an overly short yellow will be removed from the camera program. In 2008, lawmakers skeptical of the motives behind photo ticketing inserted a provision into the camera program authorization that put in place one of the most stringent yellow timing provisions in the country. Their goal was to reduce the likelihood that municipalities and private vendors would exploit timing deficiencies to generate ticketing revenue. The National Motorists Association, which helped push for the signal timing law, believes the claims of photo enforcement proponents have been undermined by municipalities in New Jersey.

“Even with the law, the program was not implemented properly,” NMA’s New Jersey chapter coordinator Steve Carrellas said. “It goes to show that camera enforcement should never be allowed since it’s almost never fair to motorists.”

According to NJDOT, only 22 out of 85 intersections were certified with an appropriate yellow signal timing. The law specifies a typical 35 MPH intersection must have at least 3.5 seconds of yellow time, and a 45 MPH intersection would be 4.5 seconds, and so on. Most cities achieve shortened yellow times by posting speed limits far below the actual travel speed of traffic. The law prevents this with a provision specifying that the yellow time can only be set according to the speed at which 85 percent of traffic moves. The net result is that the law mandates significantly longer yellows.

“This requirement aims to ensure that the traffic signal is timed properly to provide motorists with sufficient time to avoid a violation and fine by entering an intersection when the light is red,” NJDOT explained.

The Texas Transportation Institute concluded in 2004 that yellows shorter by a second than the ITE recommended amount generated a 110 percent jump in citations (view report). The vast majority of those extra violations happened within the first 0.25 seconds after the light turned red (see chart).

Ohio and Georgia have similarly tough statues, requiring one second be added to the yellow time of any intersection that has a red light camera. In Georgia, implementation of the law produced an immediate 80 percent reduction in violations, so much that the state’s primary photo ticketing vendor, Lasercraft, was forced to sell its business.

New Jersey’s automated ticketing ban applies to Newark, Linden, Wayne, Palisades Park, Union Township, Springfield (Union County), Roselle Park, Rahway, Englewood Cliffs, Pohatcong, Piscataway, Edison, East Windsor, Lawrence, Cherry Hill, Stratford, Monroe, Brick and Glassboro.

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California – Most Expensive Red Light Camera Tickets In The World – Individual Cameras Earning Millions For Cities And State

February 6, 2012

CALIFORNIA – California has the most expensive red-light camera tickets in the world – the fine is so steep that one camera in Oakland generates more than $3 million a year – and a Fremont man is launching a protest group to do something about that.

If Roger Jones has his way, that freezing dread that knifes through a driver the moment he sees the overhead flash of a traffic camera will become a thing of the past.

But he’s facing quite an uphill fight against officials hungry for the cash the cameras sweep in and police who are convinced they make the roads safer.

Anyone in California snapped violating a red light pays a fine of $480, and according to the traffic-watch site TheNewspaper.com, no other jurisdiction anywhere has a tab that high. The second-highest fine in the United States is $250, and it is usually more like $100.

The Legislature passed two bills in the past two years that would have reduced the fine or limited the cameras’ use, but both were vetoed. When he killed the most recent measure, Gov. Jerry Brown said the matter should be left to local jurisdictions.

The state Department of Finance has estimated that red-light cameras bring in more than $80 million annually to the state and $50 million to cities and counties – and that, Jones and his supporters say, is the real reason they continue to snap away at motorists.

Not all $480 from each ticket goes to the cities or counties that authorize the cameras – more than half goes to the state or to the companies that run the devices. And not all tickets result in convictions.

But the haul is still out of proportion to the overall set of offenses, critics say. And so even though the fine for running a red light is the same whether a camera or a live police officer generates it, the cameras draw the fire because they can issue far more tickets than a single cop sitting at an intersection.
‘Gotcha’

“Is there a limit to how much ‘gotcha government’ we have to put up with?” asked Jones, 62, a retired distribution manager who began crusading against red-light cameras after he got a ticket from one in 2009. “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.”

His newly formed organization, the Red Light Camera Protest Group, picketed at Mowry Avenue and Fremont Boulevard in Fremont on Saturday, waving signs to approving honks from several motorists. It was their first protest, and the two dozen who participated plan more in the coming months – all calling for the elimination of red-light cameras and a reduction in the fine.

“I think we’d all be better off without them,” Jones said. “There are better ways to address the problem.”
Longer yellows

His foremost suggestion is to increase yellow-light durations, giving people more time to stop safely – and to avoid tickets.

After he pushed the city of Fremont in 2010 to tack 0.7 of a second onto the yellow light at Mission Boulevard and Mojave Drive, pushing it to five seconds, the city noted a 62 percent drop in red-light camera tickets there.

Jones and other camera foes also insist that rolling a red light on a right turn, also known as making a “Hollywood stop,” is not as dangerous as other violations – even though the vast majority of tickets given by most red-light cameras are for that violation.

One recent study in South San Francisco, cited in the Legislature during a 2010 debate over the issue, found that 98 percent of its tickets at one red-light camera were for rolling right turns.

Few oppose the usefulness of any device, including cameras, for reducing the number of people who blow straight through red lights. But that’s not the main issue, camera foes say.

A study last year by Safer Streets L.A., a community group opposed to traffic cameras, found that of the 56,000 annual accidents in Los Angeles, fewer than 100 are caused by rolling right turns.
Cops disagree

Law enforcement officers have a sharply different view of the topic.

City of Newark studies found that collisions at the intersections overseen by its five cameras since 2006 dropped by half – from 46 in the four years before the installations to 23 in the four years afterward.

And in Fremont, where Jones lives, police studies concluded that the city’s 10 cameras contributed significantly to a 40 percent drop in intersection accidents between 1995 and 2009. The cameras were installed in 2000.

“This is not a big moneymaker for us,” said Fremont police Sgt. Mark Riggs, who helps oversee the red-light camera program. The annual take for the city is about $250,000, after all the other parties get their cut, he said.

“It’s about safety,” Riggs said. “The big thing for us is aiming for a reduction in accidents.

“As far as the price is concerned,” he added, “we have nothing to do with that. We are simply about safety.”

As for “Hollywood stops” – he insisted they are vehicular dynamite.

“The right turn on a red is a very dangerous move, especially when the driver is looking to the left and the pedestrian is on the right,” Riggs said. “We investigate a lot of accidents like that, and they are bad.”
Lots of bucks

Despite the safety question, the price of the ticket, and the money it drags in, sticks most in the craw of those who hate red-light cameras.

Opponents consider it a form of regressive tax. The $480 tab consists of a base fine of $100, with extra fees tacked on by the Legislature to help pay for maintaining courthouses, jails, courts and emergency services.

Unlike most taxes and fees, it takes only a majority vote of the Legislature to add such charges. Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, authored a bill that would have cut the ticket in half for rolling a red light, but then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it, saying reducing the fine would send the wrong message to drivers about traffic safety.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, took a cut at the issue last year, writing a bill to prohibit use of the camera tickets merely to raise revenue, and to make it easier to fight them in court. That’s the bill Brown vetoed in October.

“There are accuracy issues, privacy issues and due process issues with these tickets,” Simitian said. “The trouble is that more and more cities depend on this for revenue.”

He stops short of saying red-light cameras should be eliminated, saying they do have a safety value. “I just don’t think the current system gives the public a fair shake,” he said.

Brown’s press secretary, Gil Duran, said the veto was not about money.

“Running a red light can cost lives,” he said in an e-mail. “The fine is cheap by comparison.”
Pricey corner

The sums hauled in by some of the red-light cameras in the 14 Bay Area cities that use them are anything but paltry.

The highest, apparently, is in Oakland at the on-ramp to Interstate 980 at 27th Street and Northgate Avenue.

In 2010, the most recent year for which city figures were available, 9,273 tickets were issued there through violation pictures – worth a gross of $4.2 million, based on the 2010 red-light ticket fine of $450. Figures available for much of 2011 put the gross worth at more than $3 million.

Ken Germann, a 65-year-old teacher who lives in Oakland, knew he was in trouble, and probably out a few bucks, the second he saw the dreaded red-light camera light flash at that intersection one day in December. But then he pulled over, watched two other cars get flashed right after him – and he got mad.

He got even madder when he found out how much the ticket fine is.

“I stopped full, and so did the others, and the camera snapped me anyway,” he said last week as he stood in line at the Alameda County courthouse to book a trial date, traffic ticket in hand. “These things must just be there to make money.”

Ticketing the family

Halfway down the block on 27th from the light, Phuong Nguyen works at MP Flowers and sees the camera light flicker all day. She shook her fist in its direction.

“Three members of my family got tickets at that light in the past month while driving to work,” she said. “Lot of money for the government, not such a good idea for the rest of us.”

Jessica Lubnieski, 27, lives a few blocks north of the light, though, and says she is grateful for it.

“I walk my dog this route all the time, and people go flying through that light when they turn,” she said as she strolled by the intersection with Cooper, her mutt. “They so often don’t even see us.

“I just have to think that camera makes people more careful.”

$480 Current fine for violating a red light in California.

$80 million Paid annually to state.

$50 million Fines paid annually to cities and counties.

$4.2 million Amount generated in 2010 by one camera near the on-ramp to Interstate 980 at 27th Street and Northgate Avenue in Oakland.

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Los Angeles California Motorists Must Pay Tickets From Illegal Red Light Cameras

February 27, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – The Appellate Division of the Superior Court in Los Angeles County, California on Monday disagreed with its appellate colleagues to the south over the legality of red light camera tickets issued by companies under a financial incentive to produce more tickets. The court upheld a citation generated by a machine on July 8, 2007 at the intersection of Avenue L and 20th Street in Lancaster. The automated camera snapped a photo of a 2004 Honda making a left-hand turn just 0.18 seconds after the light had turned red.

The defendant in the case argued that this ticket was invalid because it had been issued by a private company and the city of Lancaster who were operating together under an arrangement specifically forbidden by the state’s red light camera statute. The law requires that camera contractors be compensated on a flat-rate basis to remove the financial incentive for the company to issue more tickets. Lancaster is one of dozens of California cities ignoring this mandate by using a “cost neutral” formula that adjusts the rate paid based on whether the number of tickets issued falls within a certain range.

The Orange County appellate court in December struck down photo tickets issued in the city of Fullerton because it used a similar payment scheme (view decision). The Los Angeles appellate court, however, refused to consider whether or not the Lancaster arrangement violated the law. It insisted that this question was irrelevant.

“Had the legislature intended for such compliance or contract language to be conditions precedent to the issuance of citations, part of the prosecution’s prima facie case, or a basis for the exclusion of evidence, it would have simply included the appropriate language reflecting its intent in the statute,” Judge Patti Jo McKay wrote for the three-judge panel.

In effect, McKay ruled that if a municipality refuses to follow the law by using a contract based upon bounty payments, nothing can be done about it. McKay also refused to overturn the ticket on the grounds that the city had refused to provide to the defendant inspection, calibration and maintenance records for both the traffic light and the red light camera. The appellate court ruled that it was appropriate to conceal this information because the defendant failed to prove that the unseen documents contained exculpatory evidence.

“Other than speculation, there is no basis to conclude that the calibration and maintenance report contained information favorable to the defendant,” McKay wrote.

Both the Orange County and Los Angeles courts draw millions in revenue from “court costs” imposed on the $400 camera ticket. Despite this, the Orange County court has been consistently more skeptical of the procedures used in automated ticketing. The split between the courts can only be resolved by referring a case to the California Court of Appeal or Supreme Court. In 2005, the high court sided with the Orange County court’s reasoning and declined to reopen a decision that tossed a photo ticket over a city’s failure to follow warning requirements. The decision was left unpublished, denying it precedential value, until the same defendant filed an identical case that was ordered published earlier this month.

Appeared Here


Los Angeles California Motorists Must Pay Tickets From Illegal Red Light Cameras

February 27, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – The Appellate Division of the Superior Court in Los Angeles County, California on Monday disagreed with its appellate colleagues to the south over the legality of red light camera tickets issued by companies under a financial incentive to produce more tickets. The court upheld a citation generated by a machine on July 8, 2007 at the intersection of Avenue L and 20th Street in Lancaster. The automated camera snapped a photo of a 2004 Honda making a left-hand turn just 0.18 seconds after the light had turned red.

The defendant in the case argued that this ticket was invalid because it had been issued by a private company and the city of Lancaster who were operating together under an arrangement specifically forbidden by the state’s red light camera statute. The law requires that camera contractors be compensated on a flat-rate basis to remove the financial incentive for the company to issue more tickets. Lancaster is one of dozens of California cities ignoring this mandate by using a “cost neutral” formula that adjusts the rate paid based on whether the number of tickets issued falls within a certain range.

The Orange County appellate court in December struck down photo tickets issued in the city of Fullerton because it used a similar payment scheme (view decision). The Los Angeles appellate court, however, refused to consider whether or not the Lancaster arrangement violated the law. It insisted that this question was irrelevant.

“Had the legislature intended for such compliance or contract language to be conditions precedent to the issuance of citations, part of the prosecution’s prima facie case, or a basis for the exclusion of evidence, it would have simply included the appropriate language reflecting its intent in the statute,” Judge Patti Jo McKay wrote for the three-judge panel.

In effect, McKay ruled that if a municipality refuses to follow the law by using a contract based upon bounty payments, nothing can be done about it. McKay also refused to overturn the ticket on the grounds that the city had refused to provide to the defendant inspection, calibration and maintenance records for both the traffic light and the red light camera. The appellate court ruled that it was appropriate to conceal this information because the defendant failed to prove that the unseen documents contained exculpatory evidence.

“Other than speculation, there is no basis to conclude that the calibration and maintenance report contained information favorable to the defendant,” McKay wrote.

Both the Orange County and Los Angeles courts draw millions in revenue from “court costs” imposed on the $400 camera ticket. Despite this, the Orange County court has been consistently more skeptical of the procedures used in automated ticketing. The split between the courts can only be resolved by referring a case to the California Court of Appeal or Supreme Court. In 2005, the high court sided with the Orange County court’s reasoning and declined to reopen a decision that tossed a photo ticket over a city’s failure to follow warning requirements. The decision was left unpublished, denying it precedential value, until the same defendant filed an identical case that was ordered published earlier this month.

Appeared Here


Lawyer Sticks It To Cleveland Ohio After Getting Red-Light Camera Ticket

February 22, 2009

CLEVELAND, OHIO — There’s a controversy brewing over the red-light and speed cameras put up at intersections throughout Cleveland.

A new court ruling about the tickets issued through the cameras could open up a big can of worms, reported NewsChannel5’s Paul Kiska.

It turns out there’s a loophole in Cleveland’s traffic camera system. It’s in the wording of the code violation that reads the “owner of the vehicle shall be eligible for the penalty.” There is no mention about drivers who lease a vehicle.

“I think the lessee of the vehicle is not liable under this Cleveland code section,” said attorney Blake Dickson.

Dickson fought City Hall and won. His law firm leases cars and got ticketed by the cameras.

Dickson appealed to Ohio district court and won because the code doesn’t mention anything about “leased” or “rented” vehicles.

But until the city code is changed, every driver might have a case if they want to pay $225 in fees to appeal.

“Somebody made the argument until this is changed, every owner has an argument because it’s an unequal situation because there’s not equal protection under the law,” said Dickson.

While drivers debate whether the 41 cameras are a money grab by the city or about safety, it appears they’re here to stay.

“Yes, they’re making money and yes, it’s safety, but it’s also a catch-22,” said Dickson.

Appeared Here


Lawyer Sticks It To Cleveland Ohio After Getting Red-Light Camera Ticket

February 22, 2009

CLEVELAND, OHIO — There’s a controversy brewing over the red-light and speed cameras put up at intersections throughout Cleveland.

A new court ruling about the tickets issued through the cameras could open up a big can of worms, reported NewsChannel5’s Paul Kiska.

It turns out there’s a loophole in Cleveland’s traffic camera system. It’s in the wording of the code violation that reads the “owner of the vehicle shall be eligible for the penalty.” There is no mention about drivers who lease a vehicle.

“I think the lessee of the vehicle is not liable under this Cleveland code section,” said attorney Blake Dickson.

Dickson fought City Hall and won. His law firm leases cars and got ticketed by the cameras.

Dickson appealed to Ohio district court and won because the code doesn’t mention anything about “leased” or “rented” vehicles.

But until the city code is changed, every driver might have a case if they want to pay $225 in fees to appeal.

“Somebody made the argument until this is changed, every owner has an argument because it’s an unequal situation because there’s not equal protection under the law,” said Dickson.

While drivers debate whether the 41 cameras are a money grab by the city or about safety, it appears they’re here to stay.

“Yes, they’re making money and yes, it’s safety, but it’s also a catch-22,” said Dickson.

Appeared Here