New Orleans Begins Removal of Controversial Traffic Cameras
NEW ORLEANS, LA — Mayor Latoya Cantrell made news by pledging to remove twenty cameras in New Orleans, in line with her campaign promises to suspend the universally hated program. However, even though more than 70% of the voting public is against traffic cameras it appears the enforcement tool isn’t going away any time soon.
In some cities, protests against traffic cameras have turned into illegal action on the part of disgruntled motorists, such as Stephen Ruth of Long Island, NY, dubbed the “Red Light Robin Hood” by his community, who was arrested for sabotaging numerous cameras. In a strange turn of events, Mr. Ruth’s actions led to an interesting discovery: in his Suffolk County community, yellow lights where there are no traffic cameras last for five seconds, but where there are traffic cameras, yellow lights only last three seconds. Around the country, residents of other cities have discovered the coincidental correlation between the installation of red light cameras and shortened yellow light durations.
Numerous studies show that increased yellow light times reduce violations and create safer streets. Longer yellow light times also reduce revenue generated from traffic camera tickets.
Proponents of traffic cameras argue that they increase safety. New research from Case Western Reserve University suggests otherwise, stating in part that motorists shift their driving patterns. “Once drivers knew about the cameras, they appeared to accept a higher accident risk from slamming on their brakes at yellow lights to avoid an expensive traffic citation—thereby decreasing safety for themselves and other drivers,” said Justin Gallagher, an assistant professor of economics at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve, and co-author of the paper recently published to Social Science Research Network.
It’s well known that most citizens hate the cameras and don’t want them. What is less clear, is whether or not the cameras are constitutional. The Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause states that citizens have the right to confront their accuser. In the case of traffic cameras, the accuser is a machine managed by a technician with whatever company is running the cameras. In some municipalities, a technician’s report is read to the court by a police officer who was not present to witness the alleged violation. When accused persons raised concerns as to the calibration and reliability of the machine that “caught” their violation, a certificate was often presented in court, and all parties were expected to believe in the authenticity and accuracy of that certificate. In Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that “merely producing such a certificate in court is insufficient. Defendants have the right to cross-examine any individual who claims to have certified evidence.”
However, municipalities that make traffic camera tickets civil violations avoid having their traffic camera programs challenged on a constitutional basis. In New Orleans, these fines are considered “Civil Penalties,” and if unpaid, will be sent to a collection agency. A citizen may contest the ticket by requesting a hearing.
Whether or not the traffic camera ticket programs will survive their many deficiencies, and concerns about their constitutionality, remains to be seen. For now, motorists are all but united in their dislike for these programs, and New Orleans residents look forward to further action from Mayor Cantrell to reduce and remove this unpopular program.
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