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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Upholds Traffic Cameras in Washington

SEATTLE (CN) - Washington state can use cameras to monitor drivers' observance of traffic lights and speed limits, the 9th Circuit affirmed, rejecting a challenge to the fine amounts, compensation arrangements and processing.

A class of ticket recipients filed suit in state court claiming the fines were excessive, that payment provisions in the cities' contracts with the camera companies violated statutory restrictions on the form of compensation, and that the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts had not properly approved the tickets. A federal judge dismissed the case after it was removed under the Class Action Fairness Act to the Western District of Washington.

On appeal, a three-judge panel in Seattle affirmed the decision. Though the plaintiffs had claimed that state Legislature intended for camera ticket fines to mirror standard traffic tickets, the court disagreed.

"Nothing in the statute limits camera fines to the amount charged for 'standard' or 'typical' parking infractions, or to the amount charged for infractions authorized solely by local law," the unsigned opinion states.

The law says camera tickets cannot exceed the amount of the city's parking tickets, which can be as high as $250 for parking in a handicapped zone.

"Because the plain language of section 46.63.170(2) unambiguously authorizes the fines the defendants impose, we are precluded from considering the plaintiffs' argument that the legislative history compels a contrary conclusion," the judges wrote.

The panel also disagreed with the plaintiffs' claim that "cost neutrality" payment arrangements amount to a financial incentive for vendors to issue more tickets.

"The cost neutrality provisions alter the timing of fee payments in accordance with monthly revenue fluctuations, but they do not base the amount of fees upon a portion of the revenue generated," the ruling states.

"The relevant provisions obligate certain cities to pay a $5 service fee per citation issued above the first 800 citations per camera per month. These fees are permissible because they constitute compensation ... based ... upon the value of the ... services provided or rendered in support of the system.'"

The judges also dismissed the plaintiffs' argument that the tickets violate statutory rules for approval of the notices.

They declined to address the plaintiffs' challenge to the use of traffic cameras at three-arterial intersections or their claim that the defendants use "faulty traffic camera system technology" because the claims were not in the briefing on the defendants' motion to dismiss.

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