Flawed Technology Allows Challenges to Majority of Tickets From Red Light Cameras

January 26, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

As a south Florida traffic tickets defense lawyer, I was very interested to read about major flaws in the red light cameras in use in Palm Beach County and many of its cities. As the Palm Beach Post reported Jan. 17, a court ruled in December that the county’s system breaks basic rules of evidence by failing to show that the drivers in question actually ran a red light. Phyllis Franklin, 50, of Riviera Beach got her ticket and dozens of others dismissed after showing that the picture of her license plate used as evidence didn’t show where or when the car was. Challenges like this have helped get dismissals for 72 percent of red light tickets generated by the red light cameras in the county. Traffic ticket attorneys said the ruling could halt or severely limit the use of red light cameras.

Franklin and other motorists in Palm Beach County are implicated by a video and photos. Most of these have a timestamp and enough context to show whether the motorist was in the intersection after the light turned red. But they don’t have the quality to show a legible license plate, so a close-up shot of the plate is also taken. That shot doesn’t have the timestamp or context -- which means it’s impossible to prove the plate belongs to the car shown in the other pictures. The situation feeds into the controversy about red light cameras, which police agencies like because they catch more offenders than human officers could, and because they typically pay for themselves. According to the article, the cameras cost $4,750 per month each, and West Palm Beach has generated $41,000 from the cameras since Oct. 1. However, critics say the cameras are cash cows disguised as public safety and violate the Sixth Amendment right to confront one’s accuser. They can also point to a 2008 study from the University of South Florida suggesting that red light cameras increase rear-end accidents.

As a Miami-Dade traffic tickets defense attorney, I’d like to add another objection: the cameras are unable to exercise independent judgment. Photos can’t be biased the way humans can, but they also can’t take into account the circumstances, and often don’t show the whole picture. They can also be adjusted, timed or interpreted incorrectly, which can and sometimes does result in unjustified tickets. And as this article shows, cameras aren’t always able to connect a license plate with a car caught violating the law. At $158 to $264 a ticket (in Palm Beach County), that’s an expensive mistake for the city government to make. In my opinion as a Fort Lauderdale traffic tickets defense lawyer, local governments should seriously consider whether the public safety benefits of red light cameras outweigh the drawbacks of falsely accusing nearly three-quarters of those ticketed. But if they want to keep the program alive, governments will have to redesign it so it meets the basic requirement to prove the accusations against motorists.

If you’re facing traffic tickets or related criminal charges in south Florida, Seltzer Law, P.A., can help. We represent people fighting tickets as well as those who ended up charged with crimes like driving without a license because of traffic violations. To learn more or set up a free case evaluation, send us a message online or call us toll-free at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE today.