Many red light camera tickets don't hold up in court

March 4, 2013 7:15:15 AM PST
There is new scrutiny of the controversial red-light cameras at many Bay Area intersections. It turns out a lot of the tickets that result from being caught on camera don't hold up in court.

Many of the tickets are thrown out before they're even sent out because of questions about accuracy. That raises questions about the cameras themselves -- how effective are they and are they worth installing when the cities pay so much money for them.

Although San Mateo police say they void most rolling right turns, most of the violations in many other cities are for those turns called "California stops." Now we're learning that almost half of all red light camera tickets are voided without the drivers even knowing.

In San Mateo, 42 percent of those tickets are thrown out during the review process by the camera maker and police, according to the red light camera monitoring group highwayrobbery.net. The group says most other cities with cameras also have similar statistics for tickets that are rejected.

Lawyer Sydney Hall recently filed a class action suit against the cameras. .

"If we've got a system where only half of the people who are doing it are caught, or at least charged, there is some arbitrariness and unfairness to it," Hall said.

Even American Traffic Solutions, one of the largest red-light camera makers, claims more than half of the violations are thrown out during the review process. But it justifies that huge number by saying it's because of its thorough review process.

They produced a video which shows a detailed meticulous review procedure. If the violation survives the vendor's eyes, police then check the violation before sending it the courts.

"This is a plus in the sense that we're able to catch these ones that are minor or not true violations and only send out the ones that ultimately lead to convictions," San Mateo Police Sgt. Tim Sullivan said.

But getting those convictions are draining the coffers of the local courts.

Last year, there were about 11,000 red light camera cases in San Mateo County Superior Court, almost 30 percent of all traffic cases on the calendar. All this is taxing the court budget, which has been cut by one-third.

"Are these red light camera citations the best use of court resources, given that police officers need to come to court for these matters, is it the best use of police resources to protect the public," San Mateo Superior Court Executive Officer John Fitton said.

Some cities, like San Mateo, say the cameras have made a difference, but others, like Los Angeles say they are not and have pulled them.

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