Oct 4, 2008

Lacey's red light cameras head to court

Yesterday, as my wife and I drove through Lacey, we watched as several citizens were photographed running solid reds at Sleater-Kinney and Pacific. The darkness of overcast skies accentuated the flash. They're working, I thought. As in, the cameras are on. But are they really working?

The Olympian reports this morning that the first batch of citations have entered the court system. So far, not so good, at least from an enforcement perspective:
The nine people who appeared Friday before Thurston County District Judge Susan Dubuisson were the first to go to court to challenge the $124 tickets issued under Lacey's red-light photo enforcement program.... Dubuisson ended up upholding the full fine for just one person, Evaline Fuik of Olympia....

She dismissed three tickets. John Kenney, an elderly man who's hard of hearing, testified that his caregiver, not he, was driving the car at the time of the infraction; under the law, the cameras can only take pictures of the license plates and not the occupants. Lacey city prosecutor Joe Svoboda moved to dismiss and said the caregiver could receive a ticket.
We have no idea, right now, how many citations have been issued, and whether the cameras are anywhere near cost-effective, never mind effective, never mind fair from a due process standpoint.

Any system that drags the geriatric owner of a vehicle into court when the caretaking driver is at fault has a few flaws. My wife, furthermore, is certain that a few red light runners were missed by the system. If the error rate potentially tops 33%--that's simply unacceptable.*

Here's another bothersome point:
American Traffic Solutions is charging the city $9,200 a month to operate the two cameras. The city will receive money only if fines collected cover the fees and unpaid balances. The city needs to collect fines from 75 violations each month to pay costs.
What we don't need: extra pressure on our judges to meet a subtle quota.

Longer yellows are just too cheap and efficacious, I guess.

Oh, and the tacky tie is Thursday's. I wore it for "Do Work Day." I dressed, appropriately, as a judge.

*Of course, not knowing how many citations aren't being challenged, this number is a total back-of-the-envelope calculation; it could be a wild overestimate, or, depending on how many violators the system misses, it could be an underestimate. That we don't know the number is problematic enough on its own.

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