St. Louis Red Light Cameras: The Beginning of the End?

The Los Angeles City Council voted recently to shut down its red light cameras because the traffic enforcement program is losing $1.5 million per year as a result of vehicle owners’ refusal to pay the fines—and the courts’ refusal to pursue those who don’t pay the fines.  In addition, the courts ruled that the red light camera tickets in the city of Los Angeles were unenforceable because there were no live witnesses who could testify against the defendants. Houston, Texas has gotten rid of its red light cameras and nine other states have banned them.

In St. Louis, Missouri, only about half of red light camera ticket fines are being paid; vehicle owners are either ignoring the tickets or are fighting them in court. Los Angeles is the 2nd largest city in the U.S., so if L.A. has been forced to shut down its red light cameras because it is unable to make drivers pay up, could this foreshadow the beginning of the end for St. Louis red light cameras?

Red Light Cameras Are a Source of Revenue for St. Louis Area Municipalities

The city of St. Louis reportedly has received $3 million per year in revenue from red light camera tickets since the cameras were installed in 2007. The city of Ellisville, Missouri nets about $200,000 per year from red light camera fines, and Creve Coeur made a profit of $50,000 from red light camera ticket fines in fiscal year 2010 after paying administrative costs.

St. Louis City Judge Issues Preliminary Ruling That Red Light Camera Tickets Are Invalid

In late May 2011, St. Louis City Circuit Court Judge Mark Neill issued a preliminary ruling stating that St. Louis City red light camera tickets are invalid in the absence of enabling statues from the state legislature. The judge’s ruling was in response to a class-action lawsuit filed against the city in 2009 by three vehicle owners who received red light camera tickets and claimed they were not driving their vehicles at the time the tickets were issued. The preliminary ruling is not binding at this point so, for now, red light camera tickets will continue to be issued in St. Louis City.

If You Refuse to Pay a St. Louis Red Light Camera Ticket, the Consequences May Be Worse Than the $100 Fine

Many St. Louis drivers are tempted to refuse to pay the $100 fine for the “Photo Violation” or “Red Light Camera Ticket” they receive in the mail, but if you do, you may run the risk that the court will issue a warrant for your arrest and turn your case over to a law firm for collection of the debt.

If You Refuse to Pay the Fine, the Court May Eventually Find You

Some St. Louis area courts such as Creve Coeur, Wentzville, and St. Peters claim they will issue arrest warrants for unpaid red light camera tickets. St. Louis City sends all unpaid parking and speeding tickets to a debt collection law firm who pursues the vehicle owners for the unpaid fines. I have not heard of any arrest warrants being issued in the St. Louis area because of failure to pay a red light camera ticket, but I suspect it could happen if you accumulate enough unpaid tickets.

Over 180,000 Los Angeles citizens have received red light camera tickets since the traffic enforcement program started there in 2004, and 65,000 of those tickets remain unpaid. If a Los Angeles vehicle owner refused to pay a red light camera ticket fine, which could amount to as much as $500, the Los Angeles County Superior Court merely sent the unpaid ticket to a county collections department that issued a warning. If the vehicle owner still refused to pay the fine, there was no adverse impact on that person’s credit, driving record, or insurance.

Is It Worth It to Fight Your Red Light Camera Ticket?

Some red light cameras capture a photo of the driver’s face, in addition to the license plate. If the camera doesn’t get a photo of your face, you have a better shot at fighting the ticket. However, it will likely cost a lot more than $100 (the amount of a St. Louis red light camera ticket fine) to hire an attorney to represent you in court. Since the ticket is a non-moving violation and no points are added to your driving record, many St. Louis drivers choose to pay the $100 fine instead of spending additional time and money to fight it in court.

Very Expensive Parking Ticket

You may be thinking, “How is the court going to prove it was me driving the car?” Unfortunately, the red light camera ordinances are written in such a way that the ticket is issued against your car, not you personally. So it doesn’t matter who was driving your car because it’s basically just a very expensive parking ticket. By way of some pretty creative ordinance-drafting, a red light camera ticket is not considered a moving violation, so the prosecuting attorney doesn’t have to prove you were the driver.

Many Argue That Red Light Camera Ticket Laws Are Unconstitutional

Many attorneys argue that red light camera ticket laws are unconstitutional because the registered owner of the vehicle is presumed guilty until proven innocent. The owner is presumed to be the person driving the car when it is photographed running a red light, so the ticket is mailed to the owner. Then the owner must either pay the fine or go to court to prove he is innocent, rather than requiring the prosecutor to prove he is guilty.

Vehicle Owner is Forced to Turn In Family and Friends

Keep in mind that, if you try to fight a red light camera ticket by claiming you were not driving your car at the time the ticket was issued, the court may require you to submit information stating who has permission to drive your vehicle so the court can identify (and pursue) the person who was driving your car at the time the violation occurred.

BOTTOM LINE:  For now, red light camera tickets are still being issued in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Depending on which municipal court issued the red light camera ticket and how many unpaid tickets you have, the court may issue a warrant for your arrest if you fail to pay the fine and may turn your case over to a law firm for collection of the debt.

Want more information regarding Missouri traffic law? View our traffic law resources page for links to information regarding Missouri speeding tickets, points, Missouri driver’s licenses, courts, and other traffic-related issues.

 

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