Red Light Cameras in New Jersey: Safety Issue, or Money Grab?

You’ve seen them all around the state, silently lurking at intersections like tireless, robotic sentinels, waiting for you to make a mistake. Maybe you haven’t noticed them, and you’ve been in the unfortunate majority who have received a ticket in the mail…For running a red light. Hey, at least you get a nifty picture of your car for free! I’m talking about red light cameras. There are 76 operational red light cameras in New Jersey that were installed pursuant to a five year pilot program in order to determine the effectiveness of these cameras in monitoring traffic control signals. To see the locations of these cameras, click here.  The stated purpose in doing this was to address, “crashes associated with red light running”, and to supplement “traditional, overburdened enforcement resources.” However, two rather large questions surround their use; Do they work, and are they fair?

Governor Chris Christie has stated that he’s concerned that the red light camera aren’t being uniformly enforced, and that he was unlikely to keep favoring them at the end of the pilot program, in December. Indeed.  In 2012, 21 of the 25 participating municipalities suspended issuing tickets from red light cameras because there was a question as to whether  the yellow lights were lasting as long as was required.  Christie is quoted as saying, “It just doesn’t seem that its being uniformly administered, and I think thats a real problem… People shouldn’t be running red lights. We agree with that. But depending on what intersection you go through, its not being uniformly and fairly administered in another intersection, I think then people start to get a little aggravated about that and then begin to have the fears… which is that its just an opportunity for municipalities to grab money from people.”   Money… of course!  How much money? The statistics are too vast to compile in this short article, however one township, Piscataway in Middlesex County, is ticketing $250,000. MONTHLY!  These cameras  generate a ton of money. They are installed and operated by a private Austrian based company called Redflex.  Redflex earned 130 million worldwide in 2012, two-thirds from fee-for-service based payments.  That means Redflex makes money when tickets are issued.  Obviously municipalities make money when people pay fines and court fees.  Sound fishy?  There seems to be a conflict of interests, and the citizens of New Jersey are the victims.

Whether the camera tickets are reducing accidents, or altering driver behavior is debatable.  The propriety of using them legally, however, is not.  They violate the Fifth and, Sixth Amendment  rights of citizens, as well as The Rules of Evidence, when it comes to prosecuting tickets issued from cameras. As written, 39:4-8.15 (The red light camera ticket statute) allows prosecutors to rely on hearsay evidence, the picture or video of the act in question, despite the fact that it does not fit into any of the exceptions for the admissibility of hearsay evidence.  The person who would testify at trial and presumably lay the foundational groundwork for admissibility did not see the action take place in person, nor is he or she the custodian of records for the video.  A person from Redflex would ostensibly have to testify since they are the operators of the cameras.  Additionally, to mount a defense that the owner of the car was not the operator of the car, a person is compelled to must not only make a statement, but the burden has been shifted such that the defendant is now in a position of having to prove himself innocent.  Yes, the statute was crafted specifically to circumvent Constitutional protections, otherwise the scheme to extort money from citizens would be rendered useless.

It has been my experience aggressively fighting traffic tickets all over the state of New Jersey, that various municipal courts throughout the participating municipalities are accepting these arguments to varying degrees.  Sometimes if they are raised, judges dismiss the tickets.  Sometimes they don’t.  It might not matter for too much longer, because the people have surely spoken on the issue of Red light camera tickets, and universally, people hate them.  It is perhaps this reason alone that legislators in the state, including the governor, are listening to their constituents, and speaking out against them.  Whatever the motivation behind it, I applaud them for listening.

Additional Resources:

Chrisite: ‘gut feel’ is to end red-light program, The Daily Journal, September 20, 2014

Seeing Red Over Red-Light Cameras: A New Jersey doctor fights City Hall, PolitickerNJ, October 11, 2013

WatchDogWire, January 27, 2014