Florida Judge’s Ruling May Help End Traffic Light Cameras In Georgia

I like traffic lights, but only when they’re green. Today’s Courier Herald Column:

While much of the political world is shifting their focus to the horserace (train wreck?) that is the Republican Presidential nomination, the workings of state and local politics soldiers on. Many disinterested voters have nationalized their entire political thoughts to the point that President Bush is still being blamed for pot holes in their streets, or that President Obama is the only one that can get their local schools straight.

Yet the tedium of managing issues that directly touch our everyday lives most often falls to state and local governments. The issues are often ignored by the majority of population, scurrying about the hectic pace of their schedules, often too busy to slow down for red traffic lights.

Many of these disinterested Georgians become citizen advocates when they receive their first traffic light citation in the mail. Cities across Georgia, including many in the metro Atlanta area, Athens, Dalton, Rome, Savannah, Tifton, and Thomaston, among others, added the cameras during the early part of the last decade as a vital matter of public safety. They also, conveniently, produced a little bit of revenue at no cost to the municipality.

However, some state lawmakers, Representative and now Senator Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville) chief among them, cried foul when they learned that local jurisdictions has lowered the amount of time lights spent on yellow, thus increasing the odds a motorist would be unable to react and stop in time to avoid a citation. Many intersections were also seeing an increase in rear end accidents where motorists were stopping quickly and unsafely to avoid the red lights.

As a result, the state added a minimum time required for each light to spend on yellow, as well as other criteria for an intersection to be approved for enforcing tickets through cameras. The result of adding the additional time to yellow lights caused two interesting phenomenon: The number of tickets issued and revenue to municipalities dropped, causing many cameras to lose money; and probably not coincidentally, the number of cameras operating began to decline.

The argument over safety appeared quickly trumped by cost when the red light cameras ceased to be a net positive revenue generator for each city.

With the proliferation of red light cameras stunted, a Broward County Florida Judge has issued a ruling that may give opponents of red light cameras in Georgia the ammunition to have them removed altogether. According to Miami’s Local10.com, the web presence of Miami’s ABC network affiliate, the judge ruled that the cameras violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, and the Florida Constitution. The judge ruled that the state cannot have two distinct punishments for the same offense.

In Florida, as in Georgia, citations issued by a camera result in a civil fine, but no points are awarded on a driver’s license. Yet if the same violation is written up by a police officer, the penalty may include points or worse. Georgia code section 40-6-20(a) establishes the fine for running a red light as a misdemeanor, which can mean up to one year in jail. Yet code 40-6-20(f) says that red light violations caught by a camera can be punished by nothing more than a $70 civil fine.

The result in Florida is that the judge has declared that police cannot write tickets for motorists running red lights, which will certainly be reviewed by a higher court. The Florida Attorney General plans to fight the judge’s ruling.

In Georgia, however, the case has the opportunity to re-open a bitter battle between some state lawmakers and municipalities who have grown somewhat reliant on the revenue from their camera networks. Those lawmakers may now be aided by the courts.

Georgia clearly has two standards of punishment for the same offense on its books. Expect an enterprising attorney armed with evidence of municipalities removing cameras operating at a loss while keeping those generating positive revenue to aid the legislators in their fight to have all such cameras removed.

For now, consider this a horse race of a different kind: Will a new court challenge to outlaw red light cameras be issued before a new bill to eliminate them can be presented in the 2012 session of the Georgia General Assembly?

32 comments

  1. drjay says:

    as someone who, ummm, knows someone that has been caught by one of these things, i am certainly not a fan, and really don’t understand how they pass constitutional muster…

  2. bgsmallz says:

    #1- http://www.local10.com/news/28113135/detail.html Long way to go before a ruling by a county judge in the lowest court in Broward County court has any effect outside Broward County, not to mention in Georgia, but interesting nonetheless.

    #2- I obviously disagree with the lowering of yellow light times. That’s b.s.

    #3- However, I’m not sure I understand the outrage…I don’t really mind the red light cameras. I don’t love them…just like I don’t love speed traps…but we all have a choice to follow the law or not…

    #4- “The argument over safety appeared quickly trumped by cost when the red light cameras ceased to be a net positive revenue generator for each city.” OK…but why is that sinister?…Money doesn’t grow on trees outside of Washington, DC. (zing!)
    The argument over safety can always be trumped by cost and is every single day. Why don’t we have a police officer paid to patrol every intersection? Every neighborhood? It would be safer…but clearly not cost effective.

    The fact that these cameras and speeding tickets etc. are cost effective, in my opinion, is a positive considering they lower the tax burden for law abiding taxpayers to pay for the less ‘cost effective’ issues like crime investigation and prevention. If some numbskull (which has and will continue to include myself) wants to run a red light with a traffic camera and fund another patrol car or a more thorough investigation of a robbery…well, thank you, kindly.

    The fact that government actually has a way to do something, anything, in a cost effective manner puts it in the crosshairs for the same people who complain that government does nothing in a cost effective manner? (My brain just fried)

    If you are an opponent of the red light cameras, I assume you either have a ‘government intrusion into privacy’ issue, a ‘due process/entitlement clause’ issue (like the shortening of the yellow light), or an issue with laws outlawing red light running…but having an issue with red light cameras b/c they are an efficient way to (a) cite traffic violations and (b) therefore generate revenue for the police department seems to play to a level of emotion that doesn’t really foster a real conversation about the issues.

    I don’t know…its seems like the same kind of argument that you are against a law that has better mechanisms for enforcement of a law already on the books, well, because you don’t really like the law that is on the books being enforced anyway.

    • drjay says:

      what i don’t like is that it tickets a vehicle, not the person–and like i said i am not sure how that is constitutional–say i get a ticket for running a camara’d light–but it isn’t my car, it’s my kids car that is titled in my name. i cannot go to court and say i was not driving and then get out of the ticket–yes it was probably my kid and yes i would basically be responsible in that case, but why is this a fine that can be levied without the state having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt who committed the crime…

      • bgsmallz says:

        That’s an interesting argument….certainly a lot more interesting than some of the other issues being thrown around on this issue.

        The counter is that the state doesn’t treat it as a moving violation…the offense is like a parking ticket or running the toll booth at 400, which have the same issues of someone else driving your car…so, reasonable doubt doesn’t really apply as a evidential standard.

        But…I think there is something in the way the court looked at the problem in Broward County…Why do we have two different punishments for the same offense? And is that constitutionally acceptable?

            • bgsmallz says:

              Well, right…I guess I get minus points for focusing on the Pro/Cons of red light cameras in general (and the typical arguments against…) instead of giving kudos on pointing us to an interesting toehold created for those wanting to abolish the cameras all together.

              At the end of the day, it isn’t going to be a legal battle. This judge in Broward is the only one, out of multiple attempts, to declare the law unconstitutional. Plus, the law in Georgia, while similar, is significantly different in that $70 as a civil monetary penalty is all that can be assessed compared to Florida which has different penalties if you show to court and contest vs. paying the fine.

              http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-red-light-camera-challenge-20110517,0,313804.story – Orange Co. judge ruling law constitutional

              http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/05/542.asp – AG opinion on Red Light law in Georgia: fine vs. civil monetary penalty…fines can not be imposed/not a fine.

              It’s going to be political muster…and rulings like this, as far fetched as they might be in relation to Georgia law (which I’m not sure you clearly hit on), might be all folks need to get a running start.

      • Ambernappe says:

        Dr. Jay,
        The State should not have to prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt in this case, as long as the cameras are approved there. If YOUR auto is photographed running the light, then your household is responsible. Read your “family auto insurance” contract. Based on the state law, the insurance company can levy higher premiums on the highest rated operator to the highest rated auto on your policy. This is the fairest way for rates to be promulgated for all “family auto” (as opposed to substandard) policies. Insurance rates are not a secret – they must be filed with and approved by the State – and each company files based upon the many factors involved in their costs of making coverage available. They are regularly audited, and are subject to fines and loss of license if found to be issuing policies with the same risks with different premiums.

        I am curious to know just what the snarky comment regarding Republican candidates has to do with traffic light cameras.

        • drjay says:

          households don’t commit crimes, automobiles do not make infractions, the driver of the vehicle does, people do–if someone steals a knife out of your “household” and then stabs your neighbor–your household is not charged with the crime…i would contend that a red light camera case is teeming with reasonable doubt in many instances…

          • Ambernappe says:

            Partially true, dr. jay. Automobile insurance policies issued by preferred companies include many aspects of rates based on “household” characteristics and do not provide indemnity against any acts regarding a stolen knife.

            • drjay says:

              ok, that’s fine but we are mixing issues then, i am talking about the gov’t’s responsibility to prove a case, not the contract i have with my auto insurer, or any civil liability i might have in any other number of non criminal matters regarding my “household”

        • drjay says:

          “I am curious to know just what the snarky comment regarding Republican candidates has to do with traffic light cameras.”

          although my name’s not bamber, i am much more interested in why he felt the need to get that song stuck in my head…

    • elfiii says:

      “I don’t know…its seems like the same kind of argument that you are against a law that has better mechanisms for enforcement of a law already on the books, well, because you don’t really like the law that is on the books being enforced anyway.”

      A long time ago, far, far away in another galaxy there was this town called Ludowici, GA. Perhaps you have heard of it? Their speed trap was unparalleled in recorded history, until the G.A. said “No mas”.

      When “safety” in a particular intersection is governed by how short you need to set the time lapse on the yellow light to get to breakeven you aren’t talking much about “safety” except for maybe re-election safety.

      Of course once enough of your constituents have paid their “safety fee” to the city’s coffers you might have a “safety” problem.

      • bgsmallz says:

        Well…I’m not sure Ludowici had anything on present-day Arcade, GA…but that’s open to debate…

        But let’s separate something here…on the one hand, you have the folks in Ludowici manipulating traffic lights and gaming the system just like others now shortened traffic lights…clearly, that’s not right.

        But also, clearly there is a need to have a law on the books RE: running red lights. Am I not sure that the fact municipalities use to manipulate traffic lights and still try to manipulate traffic lights is a reason not to use red-light cameras….to me, at least, it doesn’t trump, don’t run a red light.

        • elfiii says:

          Arcade is a bunch of pikers in comparison.

          I agree people shouldn’t run red lights for the obvious reason but when it comes to running red lights and red light cameras we get into a subjective discussion of what constitutes “running a red light”. Some municipalities view it differently by 2 or 3 seconds and several hundred dollars. In other words, “it depends” and I hazard a guess “it depends” on which city you are in and what there budgeted revenue shortfall looks like.

          • Dave Bearse says:

            The camera standard is well-established.

            A vehicle that is wholly behind the stop line with the light red that travels over the sotp line and proceeds through the intersection has run a red light. This standard is the reason that a vehicle that crossed the stop line on a permissive green but stops to wait on oncoming traffic to clear before completing a left turn won’t receive a camera citation, even if the light turns red and oncoming traffic runs the red light, and requiring the left turn be completed on a red light.

            (Of course a driver stomping the accelerator to get the front wheels over the stop line before the light turns red won’t receive a red light camera citation, but may be guilty of excessive speed, reckless driving etc.)

  3. drjay says:

    also, it oftens seems like folks in sav’h aren’t really capable of driving under the best of circumstances–so you throw one of these lights into the mix and you get people slamming on brakes as soon as the light turns yellow and getting rear ended or refusing to turn right on red because they aren’t sure if the camara will get them for it and the behavoir then spreads to other lights that are not even camara’d…

  4. seenbetrdayz says:

    Not a fan of traffic cameras, but . . .

    I thought this issue was pretty much up to county/municipal governments. Maybe I thought wrong.

    I know it’s up to the local government (or more so, the voters) to install them, but I thought they got to set the rules as to how they’re used and what the penalties will be.

  5. kyleinatl says:

    I only know of two intersections in Atlanta that have these cameras actively catching folks (intersection at Freedom Parkway and Boulevard, and the one at Peachtree and Lenox), anybody regularly see any others around the city?

  6. Dave says:

    Let’s hope there is a ruling that allows those damn things to be ripped out by the roots. They are nothing but a revenue generating scam. Nothing. If I’m going to get ticketed for an infraction let Barney do it himself. This opinion from former law enforcement, too. Need more money to operate? Tuff…You should not get a dime by harassing citizens.

    • Rambler1414 says:

      Just curious,

      are cameras in department stores which are used to catch & deter shoplifters just another “revenue generating scam” ??

      What’s the difference? On those cameras you can actually identify faces. At intersections, you can’t. Which invades your privacy and harrasses you more?

  7. analogkid says:

    I’ve got mixed feelings on these things. There are two intersections near my work at which people routinely blow red lights. I’ve seen numerous accidents result and, in at least two situations, pedestrians were hit by cars. My libertarian side hates the idea of cameras and they most certainly are more about revenue than safety, but until Atlanta drivers see red and think “stop” instead of “floor it,” I’m willing to put up with them.

    Also, Charlie, I hesitate to edit the editor again, but I think “uninterested” may have been more apt than “disinterested” when describing voters. :-)

  8. saltycracker says:

    Can only speak of frequent use at the two Roswell intersections of 9 & Holcomb Bridge and also Mansell. The cameras have improved behavior.

    Maybe it is the ‘burb traffic but folks around No. Fulton are certifiable road ragers – speeding, tailgating, cutting you off, running red lights, blocking intersections and generally pressing every issue.

    Some of the problem may be light timing all along Mansell & Holcomb. The light on Mansell at 9 is a short green and traffic is backed up, to keep 9 going.

    It is a vicious cycle, folks drive worse, cops can’t be everywhere…..electronics can assist and they might be easier to calibrate properly than people & cops……

    Why aren’t tags & drivers licenses bar coded & matters computerized so a traffic issue can be processed by a cop promptly ?

  9. GAPolitico says:

    We need to end Red Light Traffic Cam programs. And I say this as a person who has never gotten a ticket from one. I feel like they are an invasion of privacy.

  10. Rambler1414 says:

    We need MORE red light cameras.

    We also need to take a page out of the European playbook and move towards automated speed enforcement. (illegal in most states)

  11. Rambler, I have a choice of which store I shop at. Also, my tax dollars dont pay for cameras in WalMart. As far as taking pages out of the european handbook, you cant pick and choose.

    • Rambler1414 says:

      You also have a choice on what route you drive to work,
      and what mode of transportation you choose.

      What’s your point?

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