Revenue over Safety? Speed and Red Light Cameras Debate Continues P2 - Sparrow Law Firm

We are continuing our discussion from our last post. Speed cameras and red light cameras are used by cities to augment more traditional traffic law enforcement efforts. Traffic cops would not be able to catch as many violators as the cameras — in Raleigh, they are part of the SafeLight program — and the presence of the cameras serves as a more effective deterrent, proponents say. Critics say that municipalities are merely lining their pockets with the fines generated by the systems.

It is true that the District of Columbia’s speed cameras have been tied to a 43 percent reduction in traffic fatalities in the last year. But, as we said in our last post, one speed camera generated 116,734 tickets and $11.6 million in fines in just under two years, and that raised some critics’ eyebrows. The revenue looked a lot like a commuter tax to them — the cameras made more money than all other traffic fines combined.

Raleigh installed red light cameras to reduce the risk of “side crashes” at intersections. A side crash occurs when one motorist is traveling through the intersection on the green light and another motorist runs the cross street’s red light. The really bad side crashes are referred to as “t-bones.”

Fines collected from violators go first to pay for the program, with anything left over going to the Wake County Public School System. One of the reasons the proceeds go to the schools and not the general fund, though, is a 2006 North Carolina Court of Appeals decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court the following year. The court rejected the argument that the money from the red light cameras should be considered “penalties” instead of “fees.” If the court had agreed, a constitutional provision would have allowed the cities to hold onto the money.

The court didn’t agree, though, and, as a result, according to reports at the time, a number of cities and towns canceled their red light camera programs. Not to be deterred, last year lawmakers proposed two bills: One would have outlawed any kind of camera enforcement program. The other would have authorized the state to use speed cameras to generate enough revenue to cover a state debt.

It doesn’t look like the matter is settled. We will have to see what happens after the election.


Washington Post, “Single District speed camera: 116,734 tickets worth $11.6 million,” Ashley Halsey III, Oct. 24, 2012, “North Carolina Considers Criminalizing, Expanding Traffic Camera Use,” March 9, 2011

We help people who have been charged with speeding and other traffic violations like the ones referred to in this post. Please go to the speeding ticket page of our website to learn more about our Raleigh, North Carolina practice.