Red Light Camera Tickets Strike the Show-Me Institute
A couple of weeks ago, the executive director of the Show-Me Institute, Brenda Talent, received an interesting letter on the mail, courtesy of Kansas City’s photo enforcement division, informing her that she owed $100 for running a red light on Feb. 16. The envelope contained the notice of violation and links to online sources where you can see photos and watch videos of you and your car committing the violation. It also included an affidavit of non-liability, which allows recipients only five choices for indicating why they are not liable for the fine — your car was stolen, for instance — and requiring the submission of a police report. Not surprisingly, a sixth choice — that the notice is simply mistaken — was not included.
Brenda disagreed with the charge that she had run the red light for four reasons:
- She tries very hard not to run red lights, and to obey other traffic laws.
- Neither she, nor any member of her family, was in Kansas City on Feb. 16.
- The car in the video was not her car.
- The license plate in the photo was not her plate.
Outside of those four reasons, Kansas City had a really good case. Brenda, as the head of a free-market policy organization with a history of opposing these red light cameras as
a money-raising device ineffective policy, was in a unique position to enjoy this letter. For just about every other Missourian, something like this is a major pain. Even if you are wrongly accused, the prospect of losing more time and money may well mean that it’s more worthwhile to make it just go away by paying the fine than to fight it. More offensive to me than the mistaken fine, though, is the assumption of guilt implicit in having a camera decide that you are guilty and need to pay a fine. If I ever had any faith in the fact that a police officer is “supposed” to be “reviewing” these tickets, I’ve lost that faith after seeing that an officer signed off on a ticket for the wrong car with the wrong plate. Brenda admits that the plate looked similar — they confused a “V” with a “Y” — but the car wasn’t all that similar.
From Brenda’s perspective as a responsible adult, the story has a happy ending. From my perspective as a blogger, it has a terrible ending. Brenda called the customer service line of the red light camera company, and was able to discuss all of the above issues in a call that took about 20 minutes. The customer service representative — Kyle from Tempe — promised that the company would put this ticket into their review category. The Show-Me Institute is in a pretty unique situation, so we might be the only people in Missouri who would hope for the bureaucratic nightmare, so we’d have something even more interesting to write about. Sure enough, though, the evidence was so bad that they rescinded the ticket, so our nightmare did not emerge. Still, it took Brenda about 20 minutes of her time to work out the situation.
(I wonder whether Kyle’s father-in-law set him up in a starter home in suburban Tempe.)