My first time getting caught by photo enforcement of a traffic violation.

| February 1, 2009 | 42 Replies

It didn’t take long to realize what that that “Photo Enforcement Program” letter from the City of St. Louis was all about.   As I opened the letter, the only thing that occurred to me was to make sure whether the letter was for me (as opposed to my wife).  It was for me.  I had gotten nailed by the new photo traffic enforcement system that the City of St. Louis installed near my house.   Over the past 30 years, I’ve received a total of 2 traffic tickets.  I guess I was due.

I was pissed, of course.  This was going to cost me $100 even though I didn’t do anything flagrant.  I had rolled a right turn onto a high entrance ramp through a red light.  This occurred at a traffic light 1/2 mile from my house.  I had done it hundreds of times; hundreds of other safe drivers do it every day.   My crime is that I failed to come to a complete stop before turning right to accelerate down that highway ramp.  I was going about 5 mph around that corner. I remembered the strobe flash going off that day last week; at the time, I wondered whether it was aimed at me.  Sure enough.  I should clarify:  I don’t always roll through that right turn.  If ever there is any traffic in the area, or any pedestrians, I always come to a complete stop.

How the city would prove that I was moving around that corner instead of coming to a full stop.   How could a mere photo determine that?   Well, they don’t take just photos.  They take a video of your car (in addition to photos).  They also installed radar equipment to check your speed at all relevant times.    When they send you the violation notice, they invite you to log onto the city’s website to watch yourself violating the law.  I watched and I squirmed.  I hadn’t stopped completely and the video was proof.

I then wondered whether I could call the prosecutor and try to bargain down the ticket.  After all, no one wants a moving violation on his or her record (that causes your insurance premiums to skyrocket).   The nefarious designers of this photo enforcement system have already figured that out too.   They only charge you under a municipal law that provides that it is not a “moving violation” (even though I was charged with moving instead of stopping—don’t try to figure this out or it will make your head hurt).   Since it wasn’t a moving violation, it’s won’t be worth your while to fight the ticket.  In true moving violation cases, the prosecutor often reduces simple moving violations—such as speeding—down to non-moving violations such as “excessive vehicle noise” (again, don’t think too much or your head will explode) and you’ll end up paying about $100 anyway.   Therefore, the new photo enforcement system is technologically smart and financially tempting for municipalities.   Your only real option is to pay the money.

These photo enforcement systems are popping up everywhere and they are quite controversial.  In my case, this system nailed me for something no police officer has ever questioned—the cops roll around that corner onto the high ramp too; I’ve seen it many times.   In the case of people doing what I did, the system doesn’t make the intersection safer, and it will also cause traffic to clog up more.* Here’s a sample of the some justifications offered by a city that employs these devices and here are a list of the concerns regarding these photo enforcement systems.  From the perspective of a city, there is no downside.  From a city’s perspective, having a system like this is like having a license to print money.

I’m not feeling guilty tonight, even though I’m proven a law-breaker.  Nonetheless, the new photo enforcement system will make me come to a full stop at that intersection.  I will follow the letter of the law, even if it doesn’t make the intersection safer and even if it clogs up the traffic.  It’s just not worth it to roll around that corner on a red light when it costs $100.  From now on, I am aware that “the Man” will be watching me and I’ll be behaving.  Not that the city is any safer because of it.

[*For those living in St. Louis, the intersection is at Grand at Highway 44.]

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Category: Law, law and order, Whimsy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (42)

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  1. C Vil Disobediance says:

    I got one of these. Rolling violation with no video proof. Paid $100. Now I save trash in my car until I get in the city and dump as much as I can on the roads and city owned parking areas. Costs the city to clean it up doesn't it?

    • Erich Vieth says:

      C Vil Disobediance: I seems to me that you are hurting innocent people with your act of protest. Shouldn't you be making certain that more carefully formulate your act of protest?

  2. Lusi W. says:

    I feel for you. I turned 19 today and was greeted by a $100 ticket. Happy birthday to me.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    I’ve been advised that the list of justifications used by cities for using these devices is plucked from documents promulgated by ATS, a company that sells these devices and is thus in a position to profit from their sales. Here are links to studies that show that RLC’s (Red Light Cameras) actually increase crashes and accidents: http://www.motorists.org/red-light-cameras/studies and here http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/04/430.asp

    • Jim Razinha says:

      Oh, dear me…”promulgated”? Shades of military jargon…(I guess the cities might promulgate, but the manufacturer wouldn’t).

      Anyway, I forwarded your two links to our traffic engineer for comment (who also passed to some law enforcement contacts.) I’m curious as to our statistics.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      I’m looking forward to their comments, Jim.

    • Tonic says:

      Having a strong interest in automated enforcement (Red Light, Speed, Bus/Car Pool Lane) because of my employment, I have very familiar with those two linked sites. Unfortunately they are just as, if not more, bias in the studies on the topic as the manufacturers are as both a solicitation groups to prevent traffic cameras. Unfortunately, their finds are rarely supported by non-bias groups (basically they have no negative repercussions for fudging numbers/results).

      The manufacturers however do have repercussions for ‘fudging’. You have to keep in mind that they are private companies making a living (aka profit) and lying/being unethical is a quick way to jeopardize that (just ask Redflex who might be getting the boot from Chicago because unethical practices).

      The best solution for automated enforcement is through local legislation. Chicago might be getting rid of Redflex, but, mark my words, the cameras will stay. I bet one of the other major providers will pick it up.

      You don’t like the “roll-through right hand turn” enforcement? Then support getting that changed in your state (many states don’t allow those tickets). I feel that same way about it. However, I don’t mind the normal idea of stop light cameras as I NEVER run red lights and I see at least one a day where I live (and wish there was a camera installed).

  4. Sandy LaRouche says:

    We, too, got a ticket for $100 for the same intersection. We formerly lived one half block from there on Detonty St. I have seen hundreds of cars in my 29 years in Shaw Neighborhood,do exactly what we are being billed for. $100 is 1/8th of my social security and this is truly a hardship on me.
    I think this is very much like the speed traps in Illinois or some of our little municipalities who count on those for their revenue–or the trick they play in Illinois where you are required to stop if an emergency vehicle of any kind is pulled over to the side of the road–they got my friend’s husband on that stinker.I wasn’t driving the car, neither was my husband, but the money comes out of our very shallow pockets.

  5. Tim Hogan says:

    Judge Mark Neill in the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis held, in March 2012, that the St. Louis City photo enforcement ordinance is unconstitutional because it doesn’t have state enabling legislation or provide a court date so as to allow for a protest in violation of procedural due process requirements. The City has appealed.

  6. heidi nerl says:

    i just got one at the loop tonight, it was raining and right when i was close to the stoplight it turned yellow, i started to press on the gas but i could tell i was hydroplaning so i had to go through the red light and it caught me

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Heidi: Municipalities claim that the devices are for safety, but they sure love that money pouring into their coffers. In the meantime, where are the stats showing that serious accidents are being prevented at photo intersections?

    • Tonic says:

      Erich: Part of my job is researching that very thing…statistics on crashes, violations, injuries, etc. Off the top of my head I know Pennsylvania recently released (in last 2 years?) a state study on that since they expanded the legal area of automated enforcement from only Phili to the rest of the state.
      There are other, smaller area studies that come to general conclusion of: overall violations decrease, overall injuries decrease, severity of crashes decrease, and overall crashes decrease. However, fender-benders tend to increase as bad drivers slam on thier breaks and other bad drivers aren’t paying attention (but only this sub-set of all crashes increases). European studies tend to be more conclusive/common regarding this and it is normally about a 20-25% decrease.

      Can’t deny the money is noce to the city also. Especially regarding the recent budget problems at the Federal level in the U.S. (fiscal cliff mumbo-jumbo), I would exect you will see a lot more cities thinking that money looks good also.

  7. Tracey says:

    Will getting a camera ticket in St. Louis for not coming to a complete stop before turning right on red increase our insurance premiums and/or add points to your license?

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