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News

Red light cameras deemed constitutional by US court

American Traffic Solutions : 07 January, 2009  (Technical Article)
National endorsement for constitutionality of red light enforcement cameras achieved with landmark court ruling
American Traffic Solutions (ATS), which serves more than 130 communities across the US with red-light and speed camera programs, is applauding a ruling of the Seventh Circuit, US Court of Appeals, affirming the constitutionality of red-light photo-enforcement programs. The ruling (No. 08-1363 decided January 5, 2009)—authored by the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Frank Easterbrook—is a ground-breaking decision on photo enforcement programs with national implications.

"This decision effectively settles the issue of the constitutionality of photo-enforcement programs, confirming what our clients and hundreds of communities nationally have long argued," said James Tuton, President and CEO of American Traffic Solutions. "Photo-enforcement is a legal, successfully-proven tool that assists communities in improving public safety on local roadways."

The Seventh Circuit held that issuing citations to vehicle owners (or lessees) without any evidence of who was actually driving the vehicle at the time of the traffic violation is constitutionally permissible. The Court rejected the violators' argument that Chicago's red-light camera system offended their due process rights and acclaimed the prudence of the city's system.

Chicago's photo enforcement program, like most red-light and speed camera programs nationally, issues citations to the registered owners of vehicles that run red lights or violate speed limits. Of the 25 states where photo traffic enforcement is used, only programs in Arizona, California, Oregon and Colorado actually photograph the drivers of the offending vehicles.

"Is it rational to fine the owner rather than the driver? Certainly so," Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote in the Court's ruling. "A camera can show reliably which cars and trucks go through red lights but is less likely to show who was driving. That would make it easy for owners to point the finger at friends or children—and essentially impossible for the City to prove otherwise. A system of photographic evidence reduces the costs of law enforcement and increases the proportion of all traffic offenses that are detected; these benefits can be achieved only if the owner is held responsible," the Court stated.

The Court also found that imposing a fine on the owner of the vehicle rather than the driver not only "improves compliance with traffic laws" but has the additional benefit of encouraging owners to take greater care in lending their cars. "Owners will take more care when lending their cars and often they can pass the expense on to the real wrongdoer," according to the Court.

Additionally, the fact that Illinois state law—unlike Chicago's city law—fines drivers, rather than owners, for violations of traffic laws has no bearing on the constitutionality of the city's red-light camera system, according to the ruling. The Court concluded that cities may adopt traffic enforcement methods that differs with the state's methods without offence to the Constitution.

The Court also addressed the issue of revenues derived from photo traffic enforcement systems. "That the City's system raises revenues does not condemn it," according to the Court. "Taxes, whether on liquor or on running red lights, are valid municipal endeavours. Like any other exaction, a fine does more than raise revenue: It also discourages the taxed activity. A system that simultaneously raises money and improves compliance with traffic laws has much to recommend it and cannot be called unconstitutionally whimsical."

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