Revenue over Safety? Speed and Red Light Cameras Debate Continues

in Criminal Defense, on

Red light and speed cameras are back in the news. The cameras that snap pictures of cars sailing through red lights or speeding through intersections are either loved or loathed. Law enforcement agencies are in the former category, but critics are wondering if the enthusiasm is more for the revenue generated by the cameras than the lives the cameras may have saved.

Raleigh is one of the 541 U.S. communities that use red light cameras, and the city is among the vast majority of communities that do not use speed cameras. The cameras snap a picture of the vehicle as it goes through the red light or passes a speed checkpoint, and a citation is mailed to the vehicle’s registered owner. In North Carolina, the fine is $50 at most; the penalty doubles if the payment is late, and late payment adds three points to the owner’s license.

One of the problems is that the ticket goes to the owner, not the driver. Opponents have argued that the cameras violate the driver’s and the owner’s right to privacy. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, though, most of the criticism centers on the idea that the cameras are just moneymakers for local governments.

The GHSA admits that the programs make money, but it points out that all traffic enforcement programs generate revenue. Automated enforcement systems exist, though, as a deterrent to crime. The objective is not to catch the violators, the organization says, because the installation of red light and speed cameras is accompanied by an education and awareness program. Signage warns drivers that the cameras are there and that violators will be fined.

This week, though, newspapers in the District of Columbia published the results of one speed camera, and the revenue versus deterrence debate has been reignited. Over a 23-month period, that one camera generated a jaw-dropping 116,734 tickets and $11.6 million in fines.

We’ll continue this in our next post.

Sources:

Washington Post, “Single District speed camera: 116,734 tickets worth $11.6 million,” Ashley Halsey III, Oct. 24, 2012

Governors Highway Safety Association, Speed and Red Light Cameras web page, accessed Oct. 25, 2012

We represent clients accused of a variety of traffic violations, including running a red light and speeding, the violations discussed above. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Raleigh, North Carolina, traffic tickets page.