Fox affiliate WLWT reports that the small Ohio hamlet of New Miami has been ordered to pay back $3 million in automated traffic fines levied against drivers along the stretch of highway the town straddles. The order follows a 2014 ruling that the system was unconstitutional because it denied accused drivers due process.
This is just the latest of a long string of court cases that have challenged the legality or constitutionality of traffic cameras. The California Supreme Court in 2014 ruled that their evidence was admissible in courts, but the current judgment shows the legal wrangling is still ongoing.
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The cameras have also become a target of sometimes intense public rage, and are increasingly seen more as a money-making scheme for cities and camera operators than a safety initiative. Major cities including Chicago and Los Angeles have said they would scale back traffic camera programs, and some states, including Ohio, have now prohibited automatic traffic cameras entirely.
Public perception of red-light cameras was damaged further when Redflex, one of the largest vendors of red-light cameras, was embroiled in a multi-pronged bribery scandal that saw its former U.S. CEO sentenced to a stint in federal prison in 2015.
New Miami’s program certainly seems to conform to the worst perceptions of traffic cameras. According to Jalopnik, with a population of under 2,500, the town issued more than 45,000 tickets in 15 months. The new ruling says those fines amounted to “unjust enrichment,” and so must be repaid.
Much of the revenue from red-light cameras goes directly to operators like Redflex. New Miami has reportedly already paid 40% of its $3 million in ticket revenue to its camera operator. It has promised to appeal the recent judgment, and in the meantime it has switched to a camera system monitored by humans.
Despite their bad reputation, there’s solid evidence that red-light cameras increase road safety. In a 2010 survey-of-surveys report from the Texas Transportation Institute, camera installation frequently reduced related collisions in an area by 25% or more.