Red Light Cameras: Two State Laws Make Automated Enforcement Systems Illegal in California

Automated red-light camera enforcement is well on its way to becoming California’s next “smog-impact” fee: an illegal and unfair system through which the government bleeds millions from unsuspecting motorists. As with the “smog-impact” fee, when the illegality of automated enforcement is eventually established by the appellate or state supreme court, the state will have to explain to several hundred thousand motorists already fined whether or not their illegally collected money will be returned to them. The state may also have to settle potential refund claims for insurance increases caused when these illegal citations were added to the driving records of countless wrongfully prosecuted citizens. The amount per victim in insurance hikes could easily exceed the original $346 fine.

Automated Enforcement is an Illegal Speed Trap

San Diego Deputy city attorney Steve Hansen recently admitted, in a Union Tribune article, that automated enforcement is “technically” a speed trap as defined in California law, though he goes on to claim that “speed trap laws only apply to cases involving speeding violations.” Whatever the current qualifications to be a deputy city attorney are in San Diego, intellectual honesty is clearly not among them.

Automated enforcement systems are illegal speed traps because their sensors measure the speed of your car as you cross a measured distance in the road (two sets of inductive loops). A speed trap is defined in 40802(a) (1) as:”A particular section of a highway measured as to distance and with boundaries marked, designated, or otherwise determined in order that the speed of a vehicle may be calculated by securing the time it takes the vehicle to travel the known distance.” So clearly, automated enforcement is an illegal speed trap.

In a chapter of the California Vehicle Code appropriately named “Illegal Evidence”, code section 40801, Speed Trap Prohibition, states: “No peace officer or other person shall use a speed trap in arresting, or participating or assisting in the arrest of, any person for any alleged violation of this code nor shall any speed trap be used in securing evidence as to the speed of any vehicle for the purpose of an arrest or prosecution under this code.

Certainly “any alleged violation of this code” would include alleged red-light violations in which a speed trap is used, not just speeding tickets as Mr. Hansen implies. Perhaps Mr. Hansen’s spin on this issue is designed to serve the city’s revenue objectives at the expense of the truth and the law. To examine this statute, you may purchase a copy of the vehicle code at the DMV for just $3. You may also review the vehicle code online at

Automated Enforcement Systems May Only Be Operated By A Government Agency

Though not mentioned in the recent article, automated enforcement’s San Diego incarnation is also illegal under CVC 21455.5 ,Traffic Signal Automated Enforcement, which states: “Only a government agency, in cooperation with a law enforcement agency, may operate an automated enforcement system.” The system in San Diego is operated by Lockheed Martin IMS, a private for-profit corporation; certainly not the “government agency” called for in the statute. In fact, all the automated enforcement systems in California are being illegally operated by private corporations.

The law calls for a government agency to run the system because the policy and procedures employed by a government agency are fully open to public review, whereas the inner machinations of a private corporation are generally confidential and not open to the public. Any strategies Lockheed Martin might employ to increase the number or red-light tickets, and thereby improve its bottom line, are not open to public scrutiny.

We already know that Lockheed Martin has placed the majority of their cameras in San Diego at relatively safe intersections in higher income areas, avoiding the dangerous intersections that exist mostly in lower income neighborhoods where people can’t afford a $346 fine. What’s to keep these corporate contractors from other such profit-enhancing tactics, such as decreasing the length of the yellow lights at monitored intersections to increase violations? If they’ve already done this, how would the public ever find out?

Lockheed Martin only gets paid its $70 bounty per picture if you are found guilty. A faceless and unnamed “technician” at Lockheed ultimately “interprets” the data to determine your “guilt.” You are not permitted to question or cross examine this person in court to see how he arrived at this conclusion. Instead, a cop trained by this technician presents the company’s verdict in court. This makes the reality of the situation appear less blatant: that you are being found guilty by a corporation using the police and courts as their proxy.

Officially, your actual guilty verdict is delivered by a judge that probably understands less about automated enforcement than you do. The judge uses the trappings of his office to officiate at this miscarriage of justice. The real judge in these cases is an anonymous technician, dreaming of how valuable his stock options will be as a thousand automated systems bloom across the Golden State.

The goal of a corporation is to increase profits not to render justice. In their quest for increased corporate revenue from their automated enforcement business, there is no limit to how Lockheed Martin might abuse California citizens. We should certainly not give any defense contractor unsupervised access to the DMV license and registration data bases or to our collective wallets (remember folks, defense contractors thought it was fair to charge us $3000 for a toilet seat). Will compromised city attorneys and judges protect us from possible abuse at the hands of defense contractors like Lockheed Martin?

Automated enforcement systems are illegal and unsupervised intrusions into our privacy and should be immediately removed.

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