St. Louis Can Use Red Light Cams for Revenue

     ST. LOUIS (CN) – Red light cameras will not bend to criticism that such systems represent “the elusive goose that lays the golden egg” for cash-strapped cities, a Missouri appeals court ruled.
     St. Louis launched its program in May 2007 through a contract with American Traffic Solutions. Drivers who violate a red light camera receive a $100 fine in the mail. The red light camera takes a picture of the vehicle and the vehicle’s license plate, but not the driver.
     The city brought in $5.4 million last year, with $3.7 million going to the city’s general revenue fund and $1.7 million to American Traffic Solutions, the mayor’s office told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
     A trio of drivers who received red-light camera tickets filed a class action, and Judge Mark Neill with the St. Louis Circuit Court agreed that the city had been unjustly enriched while violating the protections against self-incrimination and right to due process, among other things.
     Neil ruled in February 2010 that St. Louis lacked the authority to regulate red light cameras and that current law provided no way for someone to contest the violation, except to claim that someone else was driving.
     A three-judge panel of the appellate court’s Eastern District reversed Tuesday, concluding that reasonable traffic regulations are a proper exercise of a city’s police power.
     “We are not blind to the criticism that municipalities use automated red light enforcement systems to generate substantial revenue to fund their municipal operations,” Judge Kurt Odenwald wrote for the court. “Indeed, a common sense understanding of the implementation of the automated system strongly suggests cities employing automated red light cameras within their municipal boundaries may have discovered the elusive goose that lays the golden egg. However, by analogy, is the automated red light enforcement system fundamentally different from radar guns used by law enforcement, which when first introduced, represented a significant technological advance that aided law enforcement and municipalities enforce existing traffic regulations? It seems logical that the use of radar similarly may have resulted in increased revenues to municipalities due to more aggressive and accurate enforcement of existing traffic regulations made possible by new technology.”
     “As disconcerting as it may seem, the financial windfall enjoyed by municipalities implementing the automated camera system does not diminish the benefits to public safety occasioned by any potential reduction in traffic accidents within their municipal boundaries,” Odenwald wrote.
     The appellate panel affirmed, however, on the point that St. Louis fails to provide cited drivers with notice of their right to plead not guilty and contest the violation in court.
     A lawyer for the plaintiffs told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he plans to seek a rehearing and transfer. The issue could end up in the Missouri Supreme Court.
     Judges Clifford Ahrens and Lawrence Mooney concurred with Odenwald.

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