Critics of traffic cameras have something to celebrate: a judge in Ohio has declared the devices "a scam" and insisted that one tiny town must turn them off.
To call traffic cameras "controversial" would be an understatement. Organizations like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Coalition for Safer Roads claim the devices -- particularly red-light cams -- make the world a safer place.
Many citizens feel differently, and they've been pressuring elected officials in Arizona, New Mexico, and elsewhere to unplug the devices, despite the cash that speed and red-light cams generate for city coffers.
And in places where the devices persist, backyard entrepreneurs have been developing clever ways to foil them. (Though it doesn't appear that noPhoto's clever license frame ever made it into production.)
These tensions have come to a head in Ohio. There, Judge Robert Ruehlman heard arguments about the installation of speed cameras in the town of Elmwood Place.
Plaintiffs charged that the $105 speeding tickets doled out by the camera system's operator, Maryland-based Optotraffic LLC, have raised $1.5 million in under nine months. That's an awful lot, considering that the Cincinnati suburb of Elmwood Place is home to just 2,000 residents. By our simple math, Optotraffic had to dole out over 14,000 tickets to reach that total -- more than 1,500 per month.
The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Mike Allen, also pointed out that Elmwood Place never installed the roadway signage that's required to accompany such cameras. And he noted that if the citizens of Elmwood Place wanted to protest their citation, they had to request an administrative hearing, which carried a $25 service fee.
The defense argued that the money raised by the traffic cams was to enhance safety and slow speeders, not to line the city's coffers. And of course, traffic cams are found elsewhere in Ohio: they're used in 13 other districts throughout the state.
Judge Ruehlman's decision was unequivocal. He called the speed camera system in Elmwood Place "a high-tech game of Three-card Monty.... It is a scam the motorist cannot win." Between the camera enforcement, the lack of proper signage, and the fees for administrative hearings, Ruehlman declared that the town of Elmwood Place had violated drivers' due-process rights.
According to Allen, this may be the first case in the U.S. that specifically addressed the constitutionality of traffic cams.
Lawyers for Elmwood Place, however, are appealing. In a press release, they content that previous rulings by the Ohio Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals have authorized the installation and use of traffic camera systems throughout the state.
We'll do our best to keep you posted as this story progresses.