Amicus lector
Red light cameras lose in St. Louis

Another year, another set of red light cameras lose in court.

According to this story from St. Louis-based Riverfront Times, a judge ruled that the city’s red light camera ordinance was enacted without “enabling legislation” from the state, and the process through which drivers get citations is a violation of due process rights.

In the St. Louis case, the city was sued for $10 million - $100 for each of the 10,000 people who got a red light ticket.

Sioux Falls, as you may know, once had a set of red light traffic cameras.They were the only set in the state of South Dakota from 2004-2010.There aren’t any now.

Some people, particularly out-of-towners unaware of the traffic rules in downtown Sioux Falls, absolutely hated them. They were placed at 10th Street and Minnesota Avenue, one of the rare intersections in the city and the state where drivers aren’t allowed to turn right on red.

I got a popped within months of moving here in 2007. I wasn’t happy to get a ticket from a vindictive-looking robot - who’s ever happy about a ticket? - even though I clearly had broken the law.

"But I’m new here!" I thought. "It was just a mistake!"

You can reason with an actual human cop. You can’t reason with this guy:

In any event, the cameras died in 2010 thanks to a ruling from Judge Kathleen Caldwell that said the city’s appeals process for the tickets violated … wait for it … due process rights. She also said the city violated state law by issuing civil penalties for the criminal act of red light running.

The Sioux Falls lawsuit that sparked the decision came from thorny businessman I.L. Wiedermann, who also began his legal fight with the grand intention of getting back every dollar in fines for aggrieved drivers.

He didn’t win that fight, but the cameras did come down in July 2010, soon after Caldwell’s ruling.

St. Louis isn’t prepared to give in just yet. They intend to appeal, in hopes of earning a favorable ruling from the Missouri Court of Appeals. One St. Louis suburb already got one.

What’s most interesting to me is that the judge in the St. Louis case said the city failed to prove that the traffic cameras had any discernible effect on safety. St. Louis didn’t offer any convincing numbers to make the case for safety, he wrote.

That sounds odd to me. I wrote about a dozen stories on red light cameras before ours went away, and one statistic - that red light running had dropped by a third at 10th and Minnesota thanks to the cameras - was thrown around a lot. The number was parroted by SFPD Chief Doug Barthel, Mayors Mike Huether and Dave Munson, Councilors Vernon Brown and  plenty of others.

Naturally, opponents have different ideas: Maybe the cameras reduce red light violations, but they increase rear-end collisions, they say. Here’s  a nice rundown on the backlash.

Judges have ruled for and against red light cameras for a variety of reasons. Iowa’s Supreme Court says they’re OK. Minnesota’s Supreme Court says they’re not.

But no effect on traffic or public safety? Seems like a bit of stretch, Judge Neill …


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