Friday, February 27, 2015
Florida: Appellate Ruling Hits Cities, Traffic Camera Firm
The Florida cities that use red light cameras, and their vendors, are realizing the full impact of having the courts turn against them. Last October, the state Court of Appeals reversed its previously held position and decided that the outsourcing of traffic ticket issuance and review to private, for-profit companies could not be tolerated (view the Hollywood v. Arem decision).
Ft. Lauderdale felt the sting of this case on Monday as a Broward County magistrate cited the ruling and tossed out the $158 photo ticket that American Traffic Solutions (ATS) had mailed to Mary Welsh Wesolowski. After reviewing the evidence in the case, hearing officer Thomas M. Wich was not impressed by the effort Ft. Lauderdale puts into reviewing the citations.
"If the representative of the city of Fort Lauderdale Police Department determines that a violation has occurred, he or she presses the 'accept button' as discussed in the Arem decision," Wich wrote in his ruling Monday.
ATS does not send over all the raw footage it takes at an intersection. Instead, it uses an automated system to extract data from the images that an employee quickly checks before determining guilt and sending to the client city. After the city hits the accept button, ATS takes over once again.
"ATS then converts the information contained in the notice of violation for the particular 'accepted' entry into a uniform traffic citation and the city's representative/officer's signature and corresponding badge number are digitally attached to the citation in Arizona, the home state/place of business of ATS," Wich explained. "Testimony presented confirmed that the city representatives/officers of the city of Fort Lauderdale Police Department never see an actual copy of the ATS generated uniform traffic citation unless the matter goes to trial in the county court."
This arrangement is precisely what the Court of Appeals said was illegal. That was enough for the Broward court to throw out the citation.
"The city has given ATS unfettered discretion in determining who receives a citation, in direct violation of Florida Statutes 316.0083 and the holding in the City of Hollywood v. Arem," Wich concluded. "As such, the defendant's motion to dismiss is granted, and this case is dismissed."
Some Florida cities have responded to the decision by suspending their red light camera programs. Throughout the state, the programs had grown less popular even before the ruling. So far, Boca Raton, Brooksville, Clermont, Collier County, Cocoa Beach, Coral Springs, Dunellon, Hallandale, Haverhill, Hialeah, Kenneth City, Margate, Melbourne, Palm Bay, Royal Palm Beach, St. Petersburg and Winter Springs have either rejected installation of cameras or dropped an existing ticketing program.
A copy of Monday's decision is available in a 45k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Ft. Lauderdale v. Wesolowski (Broward County, Florida Court, 2/23/2015)
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Federal Bill Promotes Speed Cameras Over Red Light Cameras
A member of Congress wants to establish a federal preference for speed cameras over red light cameras with a new law. US Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado) last week introduced what he called a bill to prohibit automated traffic enforcement, but the actual text of the legislation gives federal approval to the use of certain types of speed cameras.
The proposal would, if enacted, allow state or local government authorities to deploy photo radar on "any segment of roadway open to traffic and immediately adjacent to land on which repair, maintenance, construction or related work is being conducted" or "any segment of roadway that is not more than 300 feet from the property of a school."
Perlmutter's bill would ban all red light cameras and some speed cameras, but Perlmutter's description of his bill makes no mention of the exceptions it contains for school and repair zone photo radar.
"Police officers are the only sure way to apprehend seriously impaired, reckless or other dangerous drivers," Perlmutter said in a statement. "All of us are concerned with reducing accidents and reckless driving but it is not evident photo radar cameras improve highway safety, reduce accidents or improve traffic flow... My constituents tell me these cameras are excessive and seem to do little to improve public safety."
While a ban on red light cameras would be a setback for the photo enforcement industry, speed cameras generate far more revenue and represent a more important business opportunity. The language of Perlmutter's bill is similar to that found in Maryland, where "school zone" cameras are frequently placed where there are no children, such as adult education centers and administrative offices where no classes are held.
The photo ticketing industry has on several past occasions advanced its legislative agenda through bills that appear on the surface to be restrictions on the use of photo enforcement. In Tennessee, for example, the General Assembly never directly authorized the use of red light cameras. Lawmakers instead introduced a one-sentence bill that prohibited the issuance of points on the licenses of photo ticket recipients. The courts and the state attorney general (view opinion) said that was proof of the legislature's acceptance of widespread red light cameras and speed camera use.
A copy of House Bill 950 is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: House Bill 950 (US House of Representatives, 2/23/2015)
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Texas Bill Would Reform Toll Roads
One of the least commonly fulfilled political promises is that a road's tolls will go away once the construction loans have been paid off. The officials making such assurances know that they will be long gone before the loans are paid twenty to ninety years in the future. Texas state Representative Matt Shaheen (R-Collin County) hopes to change the state of affairs with legislation forcing the conversion of toll roads into freeways with a bill he introduced on Monday.
Most commonly, toll road obligations are continually extended so that they are never fully paid off. In California, for instance, the floundering Foothill-Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency decided to refinance the bonds for the 241, 261 and 133 toll roads in Orange County. So instead of the roads returning to the taxpayers in 2040, as originally promised, they cannot return until 2053 -- or later, if the debt is restructured again. The Texas proposal would outlaw this form of refinancing.
"A toll project entity may not amend a financing or other agreement in a manner that would extend the date by which a toll project would become part of the state highway system," House Bill 1734 states.
The measure would prevent government entities from dipping into the "surplus revenue" of toll projects to fund anything other than maintaining the turnpike and paying off its debt. It would also mandate that a toll road become a freeway once the costs of acquisition and construction of the road are settled.
"House Bill 1734 returns tolling to its traditional purpose: a temporary funding mechanism that is removed once the roads are fully paid-off," Shaheen explained in a statement. "We cannot allow the toll fees for roads we use every day to become a de facto tax into perpetuity."
Some toll roads are returned to the public after they are paid off. Motorists had been paying tolls for twenty years on the GA 400 near Atlanta, Georgia. The construction bonds had been paid off in 2009, but transportation officials insisted on continuing toll collection. Governor Nathan Deal (R) intervened, ordering the toll booths demolished in 2013.
A copy of the legislation is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: House Bill 1734 (Texas Legislature, 2/23/2015)
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Germany, Canada: Speed Cameras Trashed, Bashed
Vigilantes in Essen, Germany on Sunday found a unique way to keep the local traffic camera from issuing tickets. Rheinische Post reports that a blue trash can was placed atop the automated ticketing machine on Heisinger Strasse, knocking it out of commission. Because of the height of the camera pole, police officers responding to the scene had difficulty removing the obstruction. They have no idea who might be responsible.
Vigilantes in Edmonton, Canada smashed the rear window of a speed camera van last week. According to CHED Radio, the speed trap had been station near Yellowhead Trail and 77th Street.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Iowa Supreme Court Backs Speed Cameras
The Iowa Supreme Court stepped in Friday to save red light cameras and speed cameras from the challenge of lawyer and motorist Michael Jon Jacobsma. The justices fell back on their 2008 decision that gave municipalities permission to use automated ticketing machines, even though the state legislature had declined to do so (view 2008 ruling).
Jacobsma brought due process concerns that the court had not previously considered. He said the speeding tickets that Redflex Traffic Systems, an Australian company, issued on behalf of Sioux City were being sent to individuals who were not responsible for the alleged violation. Redflex sent Jacobsma a ticket on August 6, 2012 after photographing a car registered in his name. The Sioux City ordinance would not allow him to escape liability unless he mailed in a stolen vehicle report.
For added authority, the Iowa court cited the highest court in Washington, DC, which enthusiastically backed the city's lucrative camera program as well as the Seventh Circuit US Court of Appeals decision in Chicago (view ruling). The Iowa court determined that Jacobsma did not lose anything important if he was fined for an offense that he did not commit.
"Jacobsma does not appear to have a conventional liberty interest," Justice Appel wrote. "He can drive his car anywhere he wants, subject to the laws of the road. He can loan his car to anyone he wants. His right to self-fulfillment or his right to be left alone do not seem implicated by the Sioux City ATE ordinance in any meaningful sense."
The court sidestepped the question of the justice of fining people for offenses that they did not commit by saying that Jacobsma did not affirmatively prove that he was not the driver. Jacobsma rested on the notion that the prosecution had the burden of proving that he was the driver.
"But because Jacobsma offered no evidence beyond the stipulations that he was the owner of the vehicle and that the vehicle was involved in an infraction, the questions of whether and how a defendant may rebut a city's case and whether the ordinance comports with due process when faced with evidence that someone other than the registered owner was operating the vehicle at the time of the infraction, pose purely academic questions that are not before the court," Justice Appel wrote.
That was enough for the court to preserve Iowa's photo ticketing systems -- for now.
"In contrast, the presumption in this case that, absent proof to the contrary, the registered owner was the driver of the vehicle at the time of the infraction is not very complicated and is eminently reasonable," Justice Appel wrote. "We therefore conclude there is no due process violation under article I, section 9 of the Iowa Constitution... We reserve for another day the question of whether an ordinance that strictly imposes vicarious liability in all circumstances offends the due process clause of the Iowa Constitution."
A copy of the decision is available in a 170k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Sioux City v. Jacobsma (Iowa Supreme Court, 2/20/2015)