Monday, December 3, 2012

Red Light Cameras


Whether they are considered a necessity or a nuisance, traffic cameras are probably here to stay.   Cities all over Louisiana and the country have entered into partnerships with private companies to monitor intersections and catch red light violators and speeders.  The usual arrangement is a split of the proceeds – usually 50/50 – between the enforcement company and the city. 

The company will usually front the money to install and maintain the camera system and issue the ticket.  The city will sometimes act as a collection agent.  In some areas, all you will get is a letter in the mail indicating your car was caught going through an intersection, and the only “trial” you are eligible for is a hearing through the same company that profits from the citation.

This is particularly unfair for some people, because they may not have been driving the car.  There is usually a way to contest the ticket, if you can prove you weren’t driving. If the vehicle is shared or a company car used by several people, you may not be able to name the actual driver.

The fine is considered to be a “civil” rather than criminal charge.  This is supposed to mean the violation is not punishable by jail time, and collection of the outstanding amount is largely voluntarily.  Certain states, however, will take action against the registered owner of the car to collect the money. Some states will actually suspend your license or the vehicle registration for the car, in the event of non-payment.

The good news in Louisiana--at least for the moment--is the tickets are virtually uncollectible.  As of this writing, the only way the citations are collected is through a letter threatening to put the fine amount on your credit report.  There is currently no suspension of your driver’s license or other penalty for ignoring the citation. 
           
The only place in Louisiana with any active enforcement of the collection process is New Orleans.  In the Crescent City, trucks equipped with mounted computerized cameras patrol the city (particularly by the courthouse area) scanning the license plates of parked cars.  If you have multiple unpaid parking or red light tickets, they will boot your car and make you pay before they release the car.
           
Everywhere else is pretty much on the honor system.  The City of Lafayette is considering suing people with excessive amounts of unpaid citations.  That will require a huge outlay of time on their part, with no certainty of collection.  For the moment, it’s a personal call, and there is always a risk if you ignore the ticket.  If you are worried about your credit rating, maybe you will choose to pay.  You always have a right to challenge the ticket with a telephone or (sometimes) in-person hearing, but if you lose, the biggest risk now is the boot.


DISCLAIMER:   Please note that laws are always subject to change.  What is handled one way today may be different the next.  Ignoring tickets could lead to serious consequences.  I do not encourage the running of red lights.  That is a dangerous activity.  Consult with an attorney before disregarding a red light, camera ticket, or other citation or proceed at your own risk.

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