Red-light Cameras In Louisiana: Safety Mechanism Or Local Revenue Generator?

The topic of red-light cameras used by local governments has attracted much debate and attention locally and across the country. The government argues they are protecting the citizens and generating funds for local government. The motorists argues  the red-light camera-enforcement programs are contrary to Louisiana state law because the program treats traffic tickets as civil violations and violates due process- a fundamental right.

The argument against red-light cameras was made to a state district judge in Lafayette in 2009 and the court ruled the local traffic-camera program was basically constitutional. Essentially, the motorists alleged that the sending notices of traffic violations through the mail violated state law provisions on how civil court papers are required to be served under Louisiana law. The courts ultimately rejected this argument in the case. Even so, others still believe the system violates individual’s right of due process.

This is how it works. A motorists approaches an intersection clearly marked with signage stating the intersection is photo enforced as the light turns yellow. The person is talking on their cell phone, e-mailing someone, searching the web or texting, or just simply trying to beat the light. The light turns red before the driver enters the intersection was, and a camera takes a picture of the license plate and the rear of your vehicle. Ten to 14 days later a Notice of Violation arrives in the mail.

You have three choices when you receive a citation: pay the fine ($117) by the due date listed on the violation (60 days from issue date), request a hearing (15 days after issue date), or just ignore the violation. The records maintained by local authorities show that most people will pay the ticket and go about their lives. After all, the violations are not criminal and not considered moving violations, so they are not designed to affect your driving record-just to go after your checkbook.

If you don’t believe you ran the red light, the citation gives you a web address where you can view your alleged violation prior to attending your appeal. It is my understanding that people rarely, if ever, win the appeal hearings, and if they do there was an obvious mistake in the issuance of the ticket.

Finally, you can do what many people continue to do and ignore the violation. This is not a smart option, as the local authorities can pursue you civilly to compel you to pay your fine, and ultimately turn you into a collection agency to try and recover the fine, or otherwise negatively affect your credit ratings.

At least eight states have made the cameras illegal and at least half a dozen other states have attempted to do the same this year. Louisiana started installing the cameras in 2007 and many cities have implemented them into their communities. Most government officials have made their desires clear: they enjoy the the revenue generated by the camera programs, and want to keep them in action.

Baton Rouge’s red-light program began in February of 2008, and through the first 10 months of operation, the lights accounted for more than 57,000 tickets. Red light tickets have raised $3.1 million for the city-parish through September of 2009. The money reported goes to the police department.

Just this week, a new report was released by the Highway Safety Research Group at LSU’s E.J. Ourso College of Business stating Louisiana traffic deaths last year dropped to their lowest level since 1984. The report indicated in 2009, 824 people died in motor vehicle accidents, a 9.9 percent drop from 2008, when 915 died.

So, is this a safety concern, a due process issue or just another important issue worth debating? I think the answer is: yes.