Friday, February 26, 2010

Red-light/speed cameras: fundamental fallacy and Ohio's Constitution

For regular readers of this blog, you know that I am not a fan of the red light/speed cameras for multiple reasons - from the fact that they don't address the claimed safety issues of the intersections to the process that presumes guilt based upon ownership and then requires the accused to present a guilty party as the only way out.

And while I believe I've made valid arguments, both here and on WSPD when I was doing Eye On Toledo, to support my position - including quoting from the national Traffic Safety Board - nothing quite says it all as this quote from Barnet Fagel, a a traffic researcher and a highway safety advocate with motorist advocacy group the National Motorists Association:

“There’s no need for cameras if intersections are safe,” explains Fagel. “Cameras document traffic engineering errors. They don’t prevent collisions, they only record them.”
...
“If an intersection is properly engineered you don’t need cameras. I feel as long as intersections are inherently unsafe they will be profitable for the camera company and the village.”

It's what I said originally, but here's an 'expert' saying the exact same thing.

Toledo never did a traffic engineering study on any of the intersections they claimed were so unsafe that they needed red-light cameras. They did not attempt to determine the cause of the claimed safety issues in order to determine what the best solution would be. Nor did they try any of the recommended solutions (longer yellow lights, all red lights in every direction prior to the next scheduled green light, etc...) to see if a non-big-brother type of change would work.

Since they didn't actually try to address any of the claimed safety issues, many conclude (rightly, in my opinion) that the issue really isn't safety, but money. And with Toledo routinely trying to get more of a percentage of the fine money as well as increasing the fine amount, it's hard to deny.

So what we have is a company going around trying to sell jurisdictions on their product and promising a share of the proceeds if the politicians will buy into the deal. Toledo is, in effect, partnering with a private company to make profits for the company, at taxpayer expense, and then being bought off by that private company for a kickback of a marginal share of those profits. How does this not violate Article 8 of the Ohio Constitution:

O Const VIII Sec. 6 Political subdivisions to avoid financial involvement with private enterprise; mutual insurance exception

No laws shall be passed authorizing any county, city, town or township, by vote of its citizens, or otherwise, to become a stockholder in any joint stock company, corporation, or association whatever; or to raise money for, or to loan its credit to, or in aid of, any such company, corporation, or association: provided, that nothing in this section shall prevent the insuring of public buildings or property in mutual insurance associations or companies. Laws may be passed providing for the regulation of all rates charged or to be charged by any insurance company, corporation or association organized under the laws of this state, or doing any insurance business in this state for profit.

Even if you're a fan of the cameras, you should oppose them if they violate our state Constitution. If Toledo can enter this type of arrangement, what else can they do? The slippery-slope argument is certainly a valid one in Toledo, especially considering that they started with red-light cameras and then added the speed cameras when revenue began to decline.

Now all we need is a constitutional legal challenge to these arrangements.

6 comments:

Brian said...

If you do not want to give money to this company or to the city do not run red lights or speed through intersections. It's that simple. Sorry I do not think that people have a constitutional right to break laws. What the city is doing here is upholding the law. That is their job. This is a lot more cost effective than planting a cop car at every intersection. If you got a ticket from a red light camera it is your own fault trying to blame this on big government is just sad.

Mad Jack said...

The absence of due process here is frightening. I find a lot to like about the effects of red light cameras, namely clearing an intersection of scofflaws who deliberately run red lights. The methods being used here remind me more of a police state rather than the 'free state' we're supposed to be living in.

How this overt abuse of authority could get so far is beyond me. The Toledo city council should be removed from office and jailed for even seriously discussing this.

Maggie Thurber said...

Brian - I've never gotten a camera ticket, so it's not about 'trying to blame big government' for something that would be my own fault if I ever did it.

And it's not about breaking the laws, either. I have never advocated for speeding or running red lights and consistently explain that my opposition is not to the catching of people breaking the law.

I don't object to the city upholding the laws. In fact, I wish they'd do MORE of it.

What I object to - repeatedly and consistently - is the method by which they choose to enforce the laws without regard to Constitutional protections like due process.

To say that a camera can convict you an offense should be offensive to everyone! Would you support this if the issue were a bank robbery? Should government be able to take a person pictured on a bank camera and send them directly to jail simply because the camera has recorded the person 'robbing a bank'? I should hope not.

You'd insist on a trial - with the camera evidence used against them - with due process of rights, right to attorney, confrontation of the accuser, etc.

Why do you think it is somehow okay to forgo all those protections simply because it's a red light or a speeding violation?

I believe there is something wrong with people who so readily accept the removal of due process rights and guarantees.

If the city used the cameras to issue a traffic citation that required an appearance before a judge in a regular court of law, I'd object to them less. But the city doesn't do that because it can't under Ohio law. So it's gone around the law in order to get money.

Even people like you who believe as you state should object to the ignoring of rights and due process all for a few bucks.

Brian said...

I can see that you do not have the option of a jury trial that you would with any other traffic ticket. But you do have recourse in the courts if you think you are wronged. Apparently you can just ignore the fine too.

I drive through red light/speed cameras every day. I see the effects they have on drivers and I can't see how making drivers more responsible is a bad thing. This is not just the city against the driver but this issue concerns drivers in relation to other drivers. Sorry you do have a responsibility in your relations with your fellow citizens.

You mention that you think that the cameras could be unconstitutional based on the fact that they are a profit sharing agreement between a private company and the city. Does that mean if the city did not outsource the running of the cameras but did it themselves, you would be ok with the cameras?

Maggie Thurber said...

Brian - I've repeatedly said that I have numerous problems with the cameras, as I state at the beginning of this particular post and throughout all my posts on the subject.

My biggest problem with them is that they take a regular traffic violation and decide to make it a civil issue, thus bypassing all the Constitutional protections allowed in a regular court. The law is written so that the photograph is 'prima facie' evidence of guilt - for the vehicle owner, not even for the person driving the car. If you challenge the civil violation in the city's hearing process (with a hearing officer hired and paid for by the city - no conflict, there!) the officer looks at the photo and says 'see? you're the registered owner of the car and therefore, because of the way the law is written, you're guilty.'

If you prove that you weren't driving the car - say because you have evidence that you were not in town at the time - too bad. You must produce the guilty party. You don't have to do that in any other traffic charge - or in any other civil court, either.

The presumption of guilty is so very contrary to our history and nation of laws, that such a process for red light/speed cameras never should have even been considered.

That's just the primary of the due process issues I have.

And you are absolutely wrong about having recourse in the courts if you thing you are wronged. These violations cannot be appealed - another due process issue that isn't provided for under the city's law.

You raise the point about safety - and I'll again state that safety was never a consideration for council because if it was they would have done what everyone else does when they have a dangerous intersection: they study it in order to find out WHY it's dangerous and then they make the modifications. You should read the entire list of recommendations from the traffic safety board to see all the various issues and suggested solutions to problems with intersections in order to understand just how little 'safety' played an issue in the decision to implement cameras.

As for your last question - no, as I've explained above and as I've previously stated. If they treated these violations like a regular traffic ticket and put them through Toledo Municipal Court like all the others, I'd have less of an issue with them because the due process rights could be guaranteed.

I'd still have a problem with the claimed safety issues and would chide the city council members for lying to themselves when making that claim.

And I'd still have a problem with the whole 'big brother' aspect. Many don't think the cameras are a slippery slope, but I have a justifiable - and healthy - distrust of government and its penchant for expansion and control. I also have a fear when people like you seem so willing to sacrifice liberty for a bit of temporary safety. (See Ben Franklin) Do the cameras change driving behaviors? Yes - but have you researched all the cities that found increased accidents as a result of the cameras? While they may deter some types of accidents, they have shown to cause others - more than they were preventing.

Have you considered that other types of traffic changes could provide BETTER driving behavior than the cameras? (again, see the traffic safety board writings about intersection engineering and safety)

In order to be informed on the issue, I've done a lot of research on it - too much to list here. I then formed an opinion of opposition to the cameras. I would encourage you to look at the traffic engineering recommendations and do a google search to see what other cities have found with their experiment into cameras before deciding that what we have here in Toledo is 'good.'

You may be surprised at what you find, especially if safety is your primary concern.

TheTicketDoctor.net said...

Maggie, I would enjoy a conversation with you on this subject at your convenience. I have been speaking out about RLCs for almost 5 years, testified in court as a forensic video analyst many times and have developed some tactics I will share with you. No, I am not a lawyer, I don't give legal advice, but do provide technical information. I have a new site, www.redlightdoctor.com

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