Red Light Cameras on the Chopping Block

Bill SB187 was passed by the Senate in April and now currently resides in the House.

This bill would outlaw the use of red light cameras anywhere in North Carolina.

Currently, there are only 20 cities or town in the State that still use them; locally that includes Cary, Knightdale and Raleigh.

Offered up as sound safety devises that deter running red lights and prevent accidents while allocating police resources to other areas, they were quickly embraced by many cities in North Carolina back in the 1990’s.

Though there are conflicting studies out there as to whether they make intersections safer or not (or they reduce T-bone accidents, but increase rear-end accidents) a couple of issues arose with their installation.

The first issue was a ruling by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, upheld by the North Carolina State Supreme Court in 2007 in a case where a citizen challenged the red light camera program.

In their ruling, the Court of Appeals found that Article IX, Section 7 of the North Carolina Constitution applies to red light camera tickets. Article IX, Section 7 requires that all ‘clear proceeds of all penalties…shall be…used exclusively for maintaining free public schools.” This is a common sense application of the law to the administration of traffic tickets.

So why was it a problem, you ask? Well, local municipalities did not pay for the installation of these cameras, and have current government employees run the operation.

No, they contracted with private companies, who installed the cameras for free, with an agreement that they receive a large (i.e. more than half) of the proceeds these tickets generated.

“Clear proceeds,” defined by N.C.G.S. 115C-437, “…shall include the full amount of the penalties, forfeitures or fines collected,… diminished only by the actual costs of collection, not to exceed ten percent (10%) of the amount collected.” This caused a big problem for the local municipalities because they had contracted with the private companies for a cut larger then 10%.

In the case in question, High Point had contracted with Peek Traffic, Inc. to receive $35 of every $50 payment they received for a red light camera ticket.

So, after the ruling, High Point would have to pay $35 to Peek and $40 to local schools for every $50 payment they received. Quickly the ‘safety’ argument fell to the whims of the government purse strings.

Second, and more concerning, is the fact that these cameras were not operated by a human being at the time the picture was taken.

Therefore, should you wish to have a trial and question your accuser, a right you have under the 6th Amendment, you would be looking at a camera sitting in the witness stand. There would be no way to determine whether it was operating correctly at the time the picture was taken.

These types of tickets, along with any other traffic ticket can be a nerve-racking experience.

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.