The Ticket Assassin provides information and commentary on traffic ticket issues, including automated enforcement. Our site challenges the legitimacy and legality of vesting police and judicial authority in the private corporations operating red light cameras. These companies are not subject to public scrutiny and only profit if their “evidence analysis” determines that the photographed driver is guilty. These corporations act as “privateers”: pirates robbing citizens with the government’s consent and for a cut of the fine. These companies are the sole source of evidence in automated enforcement cases: right or wrong, their determination of guilt is rubber-stamped by most traffic courts without further review.
Drivers With No Front Plates Are Never Cited
I believe automated enforcement is unfair because it only targets honest drivers. Section 5200(a) of the California Vehicle Code requires that every car have a front license plate. Honest drivers have front plates and are fully subject to automated enforcement and the highest red light fine in the United States at $346. These honest drivers are also subject to a conviction point on their DMV record and a hefty insurance increase for a least three years.
Drivers who illegally remove their front plate are not subject to automated enforcement at all, since their vehicle cannot be identified. At worst, they might get $10 fix-it ticket. Is this fair? A dishonest person can easily avoid automated enforcement entirely by removing their front plate. A dishonest driver can also freely run red lights at camera-enforced intersections, secure in the knowledge that traffic cops have been reassigned elsewhere.
Drivers Who Block Their Face Are Never Cited
A driver who obscures his face while transiting an intersection is also not subject to automated enforcement. Without a clear photograph of the driver, no citation can be issued The California Vehicle Code (CVC Section 210) requires a “clear photograph of a vehicle’s license plate and the driver of the vehicle” for an automated enforcement citation to be issued.
Again, a dishonest driver can totally avoid automated enforcement by placing his hand over his face or by flipping down his visor while running a red light at an intersection with automated enforcement. Truly dangerous driver can more easily run lights under these circumstances, knowing that they are immune to enforcement.
Drivers Who Perjure Themselves Are Usually Not Convicted
I never advise anyone to deny receiving his or her automated citation in the mail. No where on my web site is anyone encouraged to perjure themselves in any way. However, it is true that a person who lies and denies that they were the photographed driver typically has his citation dismissed. In this way those willing to perjure themselves are off the hook, and those honest souls who admit to being the driver pay a $346 fine and receive a point on their driving record. Is this fair? Does this improve traffic safety?
The State Legislature Quadruples the Red Light Fine For Honest Drivers
In 1996, California’s first automated red light cameras were installed in San Francisco. At the time, the fine for running a red light was $104. The corporation that leased these cameras to the city got to keep $17.50 for every person cited. This would be enough to keep the system profitable if every photographed motorist paid up.
Unfortunately for the city and its corporate partners, only about a third of the motorists photographed could be identified and cited due to blurry photos, missing front plates and obscured faces. As a result, they were only collecting a third of the expected revenue needed to keep this system profitable.
One of the two contractors involved in San Francisco’s pilot program, Electronic Data Systems, withdrew from the program after six months citing the financial shortfall. The city’s other corporate partner, U. S. Public Technologies (now owned by Lockheed Martin) hung tough, helping the city lobby the state legislature to deliver them from this revenue deficit. San Francisco had paid $30,000 per intersection to have the initial cameras installed. They did not intend on surrendering this investment without a fight. Led by San Francisco representatives, the state legislature rode to the rescue.
“California’s pre-existing fine structure was not adequate to make red light photo enforcement self-financing. This is important to local governments who support the program in principle, but are not willing to sacrifice funding for other programs to fund photo enforcement. The legislature addressed this by passing Assembly Bill (AB) 1191 (Shelley), in 1997, raising the fine from $104 to $346 for running red lights. This bill also changed the formula for distributing the fine revenues so local agencies now receive about $148 from each fully paid citation. This was essential for the survival of red light photo enforcement in California.”
— “How Can We Make Red Light Runners Stop?” by Jack Lucero and Bridget Smith, Westernite, November-December 1998, Vol. 52 No. 6
In 1998, the fine for running a red light was tripled to $346. This “enhanced” fine would net $70 per ticket for Lockheed Martin, and $78 for the city hosting the system. Automated enforcement was no more efficient but it was now profitable. This increased fine and bonus payment of $78 for the city has led to the rapid expansion of automated enforcement across our state.
Since only one in three drivers photographed are eventually cited under automated enforcement, this one honest motorist is, in essence, being forced to pay for all three. Guilty or not, it is unfair that the one honest driver must pay $346 while the two dishonest ones, lacking front plates or willing to perjure themselves, laugh and pay nothing.
Big Brother’s Tactics Are Not Subject To Public Scrutiny
Lockheed Martin was careful to avoid the most unsafe intersections in its San Diego installation (nearly all in low-income areas) in favor of intersections in higher income neighborhoods where profits could be assured. Since the city government did not object to these marketing tactics, we can assume they might concur with other possible profit-enhancing measures by Lockheed Martin, such as decreasing the length of the yellow lights at monitored intersections in order to increase violations. With no public scrutiny, Lockheed Martin may already be manipulating the timing of the intersections they control to maximize profits. This would not come as a surprise since the city has already given Lockheed Martin free reign to find you guilty, which is the only verdict that profits both the city and its corporate partner.
The corporations and cities that sponsor automated enforcement programs expect and need drivers to continue running red lights to keep the program profitable. It seems perverse that a system marketed to improve traffic safety, can only survive if it does not succeed.
If automated enforcement were truly capable of stopping drivers from running red lights, it would soon do so and become unprofitable. Does anyone honestly believe that private corporations are investing millions of dollars in a system whose success will soon render it obsolete?
Examples of completed written declarations for contesting Automated
Enforcement tickets by Written Declaration are available in the members-only