Featured News 2018 The Constitutionality of Red Light Cameras

The Constitutionality of Red Light Cameras

Here's how red-light cameras work:

The camera will snap a picture when a vehicle travels into the intersection. It is important to note that it is legal to enter an intersection when the light is yellow; the camera will only take a picture when the light is red. The camera will then send a ticket to the address of the registered vehicle owner. An official will usually review the picture once it is taken to check the accuracy of a cited traffic violation. Once it has been checked, the fine is then sent to the vehicle owner's place of residence.

Sounds fairly benign, right? Except that politicians, scholars, and Constitutional experts argue that red-light cameras are a serious affront to our civil rights.

The Argument Against Red-Light Cameras

The Constitution's "Confrontations Clause" allows those accused of a crime to confront their accusers. The nature of red-light cameras make it impossible for drivers to confront their "accusers" when the accuser in question is a piece of tech attached to a stoplight.

Adam Macleod, a law professor at Faulkner University in Alabama, was ticketed for running a red light. The problem? He wasn't driving the car—he was across town at a faculty meeting. Rather than pay the fine, he decided to challenge the legality of the ticket.

Because the ticket was issued against him (as the registered owner of the vehicle) and not against the vehicle, as it stood he was wrongfully accused. However, the City Attorney made the case that because the crime was committed using his vehicle, then he committed the crime. If that sounds like dangerous logic to you, congratulations—you have some grasp of the problem.

Ultimately, red-light cameras are forms of surveillance that allow the state to build a case against you without affording you the procedural protections you would normally receive. It leaves you unable to confront your accusers or be presumed innocent—instead, you're forced to prove your innocence in a reversal of Constitutionally-protected rights. Lawyers in red-light traffic cases have argued the same in high courts across the nation.

Some states have banned red-light cameras since courts ruled them unconstitutional; others put drastic limitations on their usage. As for the law professor? The officer in his case admitted that he did not witness Mr. Macleod run a red light, and in fact had perjured himself when he signed the ticket.

But At Least They Make Us Safer...Right?

Not necessarily—multiple studies on intersections with red-light cameras noted a decrease in frontal collisions, but an increase in rear-end collisions, sideswipe collisions, and collisions with left-turning vehicles.

Los Angeles reported that accidents had decreased 34 percent after implementing cameras, yet an analysis of the results showed that out of 32 intersections where cameras were installed, 20 percent of them showed an increase in accidents after the cameras were present. Others say that red light cameras are dangerous due to more anxious drivers braking and rear ending cars in front of them and therefore cause more accidents.

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