Motion-activated cameras are increasingly used to enforce speed limits and red lights. The two major types of motion-activated cameras which are used to enforce traffic laws are red light cameras and speeding cameras.
Red light cameras take pictures of automobiles as they enter the intersection while the light is red and speeding cameras use similar technology to identify drivers who go beyond the speed limit. Surveillance cameras are usually mounted on or near traffic signals in busy intersections and they also take pictures of license plates in order to identify and then send a citation to the offender.
Running a red light or stop sign is prohibited in all states. Each state also has its own traffic laws and many states use surveillance cameras to enforce their traffic laws. The use of these cameras is controversial and different states have come up with different policies regarding the use of these cameras such as:
- Banning the use of these cameras entirely;
- Setting limits in terms of how and where they can be used; or
- Choosing to use the cameras to enforce speed limits or traffic signals.
Also, some states do not address the use of speeding and red light cameras at all. In the interest of due process, law enforcement officials typically review the evidence from the cameras to make sure that a violation has occurred before a citation is sent out.
Similar to the traditional enforcement of traffic laws, drivers are allowed by most red light camera systems to be in the intersection while the light is red for about a half-second before they are issued a citation. This also reduces the urge to slam on the brakes when approaching a yellow light when a camera is detected.
In terms of federal law, federal courts have affirmed that municipalities have the right to use speeding and red light cameras. Also, lawsuits which challenged the use of private companies to operate red light cameras have been dismissed or defeated.
There is some controversy over the effectiveness of surveillance cameras. Law enforcement groups and traffic safety advocates claim that red light cameras and speeding cameras save lives while critics claim that such cameras actually increase accidents.
The critics also say that such cameras are more about boosting municipal revenues rather than making roads safer. A study conducted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) on red light camera systems concluded that such systems increase highway safety while reducing crash-related costs.
However, the National Motorists Association challenged this study and claimed that such cameras are ineffective, expensive and that they violate due process.
The controversy related to due process of law has to mostly do with the way that evidence of speeding or running a red light is verified because it is collected by a machine rather than a human being who is at the scene.
But most jurisdictions verify the photo evidence with a traffic officer before issuing a citation. Also, there is controversy over how the violation is served and whether or not the citation has to be served in person. Traditional speeding and red light tickets were handed out by officers who personally saw the offenses.
Yet mail service of citations have generally been seen as lawful if the defendant has the chance to acknowledge receipt of the citation or if the defendant requests personal service. If the person fails to respond to a mailed photo enforcement ticket, this typically leads to a default guilty judgment against the offender.
The use of surveillance cameras to enforce traffic laws is becoming more common and the laws which govern their use can vary depending on the state. However, there is controversy around the use of these cameras and it is important to know what are your rights and obligations in terms of traffic laws.
If you are charged with a traffic violation based on the use of these cameras and you want to challenge the allegation, it would be useful to consult with a local criminal lawyer before proceeding.