Friday, November 28, 2014
Congressman Seeks To Rein In Red Light Cameras and Speed Cameras
US Representative Steve Stockman (R-Texas) is leaving Capitol Hill with a bang. Last week, the outgoing congressman dropped a number of highly controversial legislative proposals, including a measure designed to discourage states from allowing the use of automated ticketing machines. For the District of Columbia, over which Congress has full jurisdiction, Stockman would impose an outright ban.
Speed cameras and red light cameras have become a major source of revenue for Washington, DC's city government. Last year, the city collected $88,832,976 from 666,275 photo tickets issued by the private vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) -- more than one ticket for every resident. This year, officials budgeted for a net profit of $93.7 million. The "Safer American Streets Act" would reduce that amount to zero.
"The mayor of the District of Columbia may not use an automated traffic enforcement system to detect a moving infraction in the District of Columbia," HR 5755 states.
For the rest of the nation, the bill would require each state to certify that red light cameras and speed cameras are not in use on any road receiving federal funding, whether at the state or municipal level. States allowing ongoing camera use would lose ten percent of their federal highway funding. California, which receives over $4.5 billion in aid, would lose $450 million. Florida would lose $200 million.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC's non-voting delegate to Congress, condemned Stockman and his co-sponsor, Representative Kerry Bentivolio (R-Michigan), for attempting to eliminate a major source of city revenue.
"We would have thought that Republicans would be the first, not the last, to acknowledge that traffic laws are a classic local public safety matter," Holmes Norton said in a statement. "These two members, who profess to support federalism and local control of local affairs, have left their principles behind. Whatever one's views on the merits of traffic cameras, DC's use of them is a quintessential local matter for the local elected government to decide, and not for the big foot of the federal government"
Though presented as a local matter, DC stations its cameras at the entrances and exits to the city so that the vast majority of citations are sent not to District residents but to commuters from Maryland and Virginia. These recipients have no say in whether cameras are used. When put to a vote of the people, red light cameras and speed cameras lose nine out of ten times (view list of votes).
The only independent look at the performance of automated ticketing machines in the nation's capital came from a 2005 Washington Post investigation. The paper, which is a strong editorial advocate for red light cameras, nonetheless reported a doubling of the number of accidents at photo enforced intersections after the devices began issuing tickets (read report).
While there is little chance of the bill being considered in the upcoming lame duck session, the House is sympathetic, having recently voted to ban federal funding for red light cameras.
A copy of HR 5755 is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: HR 5755 (US House of Representatives, 11/20/2014)
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Iowa: Cops May Not Snoop On DUI Consultations With Lawyers
A motorist suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) has the right in Iowa to consult privately with an attorney to decide whether to take a breathalyzer test, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday. The unanimous decision threw out the evidence against David Joseph Hellstern because a police officer eavesdropped on Hellstern's phone call. Though Hellstern asked for privacy, the officer failed to disclose that private in-person attorney consultations are permitted under state law.
Ankeny Police Officer Brandon Dyer pulled Hellstern over on March 31, 2013, claiming Hellstern's vehicle weaved over the road's center line twice. Officer Dyer smelled alcohol on Hellstern's breath and noted that he was lethargic and somewhat confused. After Hellstern refused the field sobriety tests he was arrested and booked at the Polk County Jail. Officer Dyer read the "implied consent" advisory and asked Hellstern whether he wanted to make a phone call.
Although Hellstern is a lawyer, he specializes in family law, real estate and corporate law. He claims no expertise in DUI or criminal law. As it was 2:19am, none of the five attorneys he called answered. Finally, attorney Meegan Keller returned a message at 3am, and Officer Dyer stood close by while Hellstern consulted with her over the phone.
"Can I have a moment with my attorney?" Hellstern asked.
Officer Dyer refused, thinking the law did not require him to tell Hellstern that he could have a private conversation with the lawyer if she came to the jail in person. At 3:36am, Hellstern took the breath test under protest. He blew a 0.19, more than double the legal limit.
Polk County District Court Judge Joe E. Smith agreed with Officer Dyer that there was no right to be informed about the possibility of a private conversation with a lawyer. He fined Hellstern $1250 and sentenced him to three days in jail. Hellstern appealed on the grounds that he had a constitutional right to counsel and that Iowa law provides a clear right to privacy for anyone arrested.
"An attorney shall be permitted to see and consult confidentially with such person alone and in private at the jail or other place of custody without unreasonable delay," Iowa Code Section 804.20 states.
The high court reviewed case law stretching back to 1990 that held whenever an arrestee invokes a statutory right, even if imperfectly phrased, the police officer must explain what the arrestee is allowed to do.
"In this case, Hellstern unequivocally requested a private attorney-client conference before he submitted to the Breathalyzer test," Justice Thomas D. Waterman wrote for the court. "We hold that Hellstern adequately invoked his statutory right to a confidential consultation with his attorney under section 804.20 by requesting privacy during his phone call, triggering Officer Dyer's duty to inform him that the attorney must come to the jail for a confidential conference. Officer Dyer's failure to explain the scope of the right to a confidential consultation violated section 804.20. The remedy for such a violation of section 804.20 is suppression of the chemical test results."
Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justice Bruce B. Zager agreed with their colleagues but argued separately that the court must go further. The current system where some know their rights and others do not should be changed, they argued.
"No rule of law should work as a trap for any person or the government," the justices wrote in a concurring opinion. "To ensure a fair and neutral application of the statute into the future, our prior cases should be reversed and replaced with a simple rule that a peace officer must advise every arrested person of the statutory right to counsel."
A copy of the decision is available in a 120k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Iowa v. Hellstern (Iowa Supreme Court, 11/21/2014)
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Saudi Arabia: Speed Cameras Cause Accidents
Speed cameras played a central role in a pair of recent, high-profile accidents in Saudi Arabia. At the beginning of the month, a dozen vehicles crashed into one another in Qassim after a motorist saw a speed camera, panicked and jammed the brake pedal to the floor. Four people were injured as one car slammed into the next. One man was hospitalized.
Eyewitnesses told local media that a car driving on King Fahd Road in Buraydah hit the brakes right as he came within view of the "Saher" photo radar unit. The panic braking triggered a chain reaction of rear end collisions that included a police car.
Another motorist in Saudi Arabia who slammed on the brakes to avoid receiving an automated ticket from a camera ended up flipped on his side. An SUV approaching an intersection tried so hard to stop that it left a visible trail of skid marks on the pavement. The vehicle veered to the right under the heavy braking and spun onto the curb, which caused the car to flip on its side. View video of the incident on YouTube.
Similar incidents have been caught on video in the UK. In 2008, the British Broadcasting Corporation aired a news story highlighting the local government's crackdown on speeding. The piece inadvertently included footage of a car going out of control after jamming on the brakes, nearly causing a multi-car collision. Another clip showed a car careening into an embankment in view of the speed camera (view video). Once BBC officials realized the significance of what was shown, the video was removed. A motorist came forward after recording the broadcast.
UK officials maintain that speed cameras "save lives," and they cite statistics to prove it. According to a 2006 expose in the British Medical Journal, those figures were bogus (view study). A UK Department for Transport-funded report suggests that the panic braking seen in the Norfolk footage may not be an uncommon response. A 2005 study of speed camera usage in highway construction zones showed that accidents increased by 55 percent in the locations where speed camera vans were used (read report).
Monday, November 24, 2014
Ireland: Speed Camera Firm Fined For Worker Discrimination
Photo enforcement companies are finding themselves in increasingly hot water over their labor practices. The state of California has fined Redflex and American Traffic Solutions for underpaying its employees. A multimillion-dollar lawsuit is pending over poor pay and work conditions. The US Department of Labor ruled that Redflex fired US employees so that it could replace them with cheaper Australian workers. Now the Irish government has ruled that a speed camera consortium discriminated against an employee.
In a decision handed down last month, Ireland's Equality Tribunal found the Go Safe consortium had violated the rights of former employee John McDonald by firing him over a disability. Go Safe consists of Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia, Spectra of Ireland and Egis Projects of France.
McDonald had been on the job for just three months sitting in a Go Safe speed camera van when two vigilantes set fire to the automated ticketing vehicle while McDonald was inside. McDonald escaped the burning van without suffering any physical injury, but he claims he has since been wracked with sleepless nights and depression over the traumatic incident.
Go Safe covered the cost of a psychiatrist and counselor, but after seven months it fired McDonald. Medmark Occupational Healthcare examined McDonald and issued a report on June 27, 2011 saying it was not yet sure when McDonald would be ready to return to work. McDonald says he wanted to come up with a reasonable solution, but he says he was cut loose without any attempt at accommodation that would allow him to work doing something other than sitting in a camera van. McDonald appealed the decision, and GoSafe set up a company-run appeal hearing at Dublin Airport where his case was given five minutes of consideration before concluding that the firing was appropriate. The photo enforcement consortium insisted that there was no job available for him to take, and since he was unable to do the work he was trained to do, he had to be terminated. This violated Irish law, according to the government's review.
"Although it is the respondent's contention that the complainant [McDonald] was dismissed due to his health and due to his inability to return to his position, it is clear that the complainant's absence and his inability to return to work were due to his disability it thus follows that the complainant's disability contributed to or was the reason for his dismissal," Equality Officer Orla Jones ruled. "I am thus satisfied that the decision to dismiss the complainant was influenced by his disability in that it was influenced by his absence and by his inability to return to his position. Accordingly based on the totality of the evidence adduced on this issue I am satisfied that the complainant has established a prima facie case of less favorable treatment on grounds of disability in relation to his dismissal."
Jones ordered the speed camera consortium to pay McDonald 28,000 euros (US $34,600) in compensation, an amount that is tax-free to McDonald.
A copy of the decision is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Equality Officer Decision No. DEC-E/2014/069 (Equality Tribunal of Ireland, 10/3/2014)
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Italy, The Netherlands: Traffic Cameras Under Attack
Vigilantes in the village of Loosdrecht, The Netherlands disabled a pair of newly installed speed cameras on Friday. The automated ticketing machines were spraypainted red, RTV Utrecht reported.
In Rovigo, Italy, vigilantes completely destroyed a speed camera last week Sunday. According to Il Mattino, the automated ticketing machine on the Via Forlanini was blown up in the early morning hours.