NEW ORLEANS – A group of New Orleans residents are suing the city over its red light camera program, and a national driver advocacy group says the suit will expose more of the issues with these sorts of cameras.
"If nothing else, we hope that lawsuits such as this combined with the corruption exposed within other camera programs will convince other cities that the responsibility for traffic enforcement should be kept local and not subcontracted to outside sources with financial motives," Gary Biller, president of the National Motorists Association (NMA), told the Louisiana Record.
The citizens are suing the city, the mayor, the city council and the camera installation company, saying the cameras violate both the United States Constitution and New Orleans' Home Rule Charter (basically a local city constitution) by taking away due process.
Whereas before, a police officer would make the determination of issuing a ticket for running a red light, and that ticket could be fought in court, with red light cameras the fine is issued automatically, and currently state law is not written in a way that allows for appeals of these automatic tickets.
The case is one of many the NMA is monitoring in their national fight against red light cameras.
Biller says the cameras do not really increase safety, but most cities are using them as automatic revenue generators. He cited a case study in Loma Linda, California, where increasing the time of the yellow light by just one second led to a 92 percent drop in red light camera tickets, with no increase in accidents. According to the NMA, this helps point out how some cities allegedly shorten yellow light time, trying to bait drivers into violations. Biller also cited a page on the group's website that has gathered several media reports indicating that red light cameras have often increased the number of accidents at intersections.
Another issue with the red light cameras is the fact that while they can identify the car, they are unable to identify the driver.
"The ticket is then mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle, regardless of whether he or she was driving at the time of the incident, resulting in a "guilty until proven innocent" charge," Biller said.
The New Orleans lawsuit is not the first in the area. In February, refunds were mailed out to more than 180,000 drivers in Jefferson Parish, after a successful case against Redflex red light cameras. Three lawsuits in the end led to partial refunds for those drivers, who received $23.18 if they paid the $110 fine, or $38.93 if they appealed it, since the company added an additional fee to those who appealed their tickets.
While red light cameras have the intent of making intersections safer for drivers, Biller believes that job is better left to local police officers in an attempt to avoid the possible gaming of the system.
"Any time traffic enforcement is subcontracted to private, for-profit contractors such as the camera vendors, opportunities for abuse and corruption of the process abound," he said.