Koons vs. Red Light Cameras.

Recently elected Judge Steven Koons is fighting for a client in a lawsuit that claims red light cameras and speeding cameras are un-Constitutional.

In his class-action lawsuit, he is representing Cocoa Beach motorist Mary Lombardo, who was also cited. Koons argues the cameras are unconstitutional because drivers cannot cross-examine cameras, photos or video clips in court.

We have a tendency to agree with Koons. Our justice system is based on the idea of being able to face one’s accuser. When the only evidence being generated against someone is a photograph, video and time stamps, people have the right to examine the camera (or at least its certification records). Not being able to examine or cross examine the genesis of the so called evidence used against someone is contrary to what we hold dear in this country.

Surprisingly, many people disagreed with Koons and took to writing letters to the Florida Today newspaper.

Carol Warfield of Melbourne wrote:

Regarding the recent FLORIDA TODAY article, “Red-light camera fighter soon will be sworn as judge,” I wonder if people realized newly elected Brevard County Judge Steve Koons feels he’s entitled to run red lights, which disobeys the law and puts other people in jeopardy.

We wouldn’t need those cameras if everyone had respect for one another. I pray some motorist doesn’t follow his example and kill or maim one of his family members. Yes, the state Supreme Court needs to make a decision so we could save the litigation wasted on this insanity.

I will never be in court with Judge Koons because I don’t break the law. I just wonder how someone who apparently feels entitled to break the law gets to a position like that.

Ms. Warfield seems to believe that simply because one is accused of a crime or civil infraction, they must be guilty. We disagree, of course.

Melvin H. Deere, also of Melbourne, wrote:

Steve Koons, a lawyer who recently was elected a Brevard County judge, is against red-light cameras, which is unusual and merits a possible explanation.

Our legal system is based on upholding and enforcing the law, not tearing it down. Koons has fought to defeat a truth that red-light cameras save lives.

Mr. Deere is somewhat misguided. Yes, the legal system is built on upholding the law, but when one law goes against the Constitution, there is no requirement to uphold that law.

(We are going to use a time honored internet rebuttal tactic of taking something to the extreme to prove the point. We don’t like doing it, but it fits here. )

In Mr. Deere’s world, laws allowing slavery would still be allowed. Laws preventing women from voting would be allowed. Jim Crow laws would be allowed. Just because something is a law doesn’t make it right. Furthermore, just because a law is written doesn’t mean it is within the Constitution.

Mr. Deere is wrong on the idea that red light cameras save lives. In fact a recent study released by the New Jersey Department of Transportation reveals red light cameras increase accidents, injuries and insurance costs.

A new report from the New Jersey Department of transportation confirms what many opponents of red-light camera ticketing systems have long suspected: Cameras lead to more accidents, more injuries and greater cost.

The NJDOT report, completed as an annual requirement of the state’s five-year red-light camera pilot program, contains data showing that both the total number of crashes and the total cost of crashes have increased at intersections after cameras were installed.

A list of studies supporting the fact that red light cameras increase accidents can be found at the National Motorists Association website.

Ed Mobely adopts the standard line against those who oppose red light cameras:

Let’s face it, the only reason red-light cameras are opposed is because the opponents think their time is more valuable than yours and mine.

Recently elected Brevard County Judge Steve Koons’ argument that the cameras are unconstitutional because the camera cannot be cross-examined in court is ludicrous.

The technology is here to determine positively if a vehicle entered an intersection after the light has turned red.

The opponents of the cameras are the ones who press on the accelerator instead of the brake when the light turns yellow. There is ample room to make a safe stop if one is observing the speed limit. If you are indeed too close to stop, you will clear the intersection before the light changes to red.

So in Mr. Mobely’s mind, the only people who are against red light cameras are those who want to break the law because the technology is perfect.

In rebuttal, we offer the City of Baltimore.

Baltimore’s traffic cameras are under attack in part because of the lack of accuracy in the technology. A Baltimore Sun review of documents showed the following:

– Tickets routinely fail to hold up in court in the city because of glitches in the data, the government’s inability to produce evidence, the failure by police to weed out bad citations or obvious instances of motorists being wrongly accused.

– Nearly 6,000 tickets have been deemed erroneous by the city because cameras were programmed with the incorrect speed limit or location address, or the equipment malfunctioned, resulting in several hundred thousand dollars in refunds and forgiven fines.

– Baltimore has grown increasingly reliant on a private contractor for speeding enforcement, and for months government officials could not say how many tickets had been issued on the city’s behalf.

– While vehicle owners are mailed pictures that purport to show them speeding by at least 12 mph, the citations don’t mention that most cameras in the city also record video — and that those videos can exonerate drivers in court.

As to the accuracy of the tickets, the Sun sent a couple of reporters out to measure how accurate the speeds recorded by cameras are:

Each citation comes with two pictures of how far a vehicle traveled over about half-a-second. Using the photos, we use landmarks, paint and other physical markings along the road to determine the spot of the vehicle in each picture. (As a rule, we are always overly generous to the camera when making these determinations.)

Then we wait for a break in traffic and run into the road. Once there, we mark the spots of the two photos with bricks, and then measure the distance traveled with the measuring tape. We always double-check the measurements, and fact-check each other’s work.

Take the Subaru hatchback clocked going 56 mph on Cold Spring Lane on Oct. 5. If that were true, it would have traveled 41 feet in half a second. But we found it went just under 23 feet, translating to a speed of 31 mph — a hair over the 30 mph limit and not nearly fast enough to merit a $40 ticket.

Technically, going 31 in a 30 mph zone is still a violation, but going 31 mph is not the same thing as going 56 mph – which would be 26 miles per hour over the speed limit. In fact, the Baltimore statute requires the violator to be observed by the camera going a minimum of 12 mph over the speed limit before the citation is issued. Under that criteria, doing 31 mph in a 30 zone doesn’t even qualify for the ticket.

Given the inaccuracy of the cameras and accidents at cameras with intersections increasing, one would think the issue of red light cameras being beneficial would be proven wrong. Yet there is another part of the equation:

Traditional police-officer enforcement has dropped since cameras were installed, yet more than 170,000 vehicles on area roads have been ticketed by the cameras enough times that those drivers’ licenses could have been suspended if the citations hadn’t been issued by a machine.

If the purpose of the cameras is to make intersections and driving safer, the evidence appears that neither is occurring. Furthermore, if the object is to get unsafe drivers off the road, that isn’t happening either.

No one wants unsafe drivers on the road. No one wants people breaking the law. But if one is going to be accused of breaking the law, they have a fundamental right to confront their accuser. They also have the right to believe the accusations made against them have a basis in fact and that the law itself is beneficial to society.

As it stands right now, none of that appears to be occurring in the case of traffic cameras.

Koons is right on this issue and his defense against red light cameras should be supported by all.

2 Responses to “Koons vs. Red Light Cameras.”

  1. Charles Hinton says:

    I will try to keep this short so Mr Afterwit doesn’t need to take so much time in his rebuttal.

    It is certainly counter-intuitive to say it is safer to run a red light than stop before the stop line and get rear ended because you and the illegal driver behind you were speeding and driving with less than the required interval between cars. Running a red light results with a tee-bone accident and being rear ended are much different kind of accidents. (And I am aware there is a one second or so delay between the red light on one road and the green light on the cross road.)

    My recollection is that sixty MPH translates into 88 ft per second so 30 MPH should cover 44 ft. If my head computer is right then 45 MPH is 66 ft per sec. My experience has been that most traffic lights have a 5 sec yellow before red, so at 45 MPH (330 ft) the driver has the length of a football field plus to the goal posts to come to a stop. That seems to me like ample time.

    “A list of studies supporting the fact that red light cameras increase accidents can be found at the National Motorists Association website.” I don’t know anything about that web site but the National Motorists Assoc doesn’t sound like a completely unbiased site source on automotive things.

    I think the public is in bad trouble when judges decide cases based upon their own judgment of right and wrong.

    As to that “facing your accuser” right in the constitution, you don’t get to confront your accuser when you get a parking violation. A camera ticket is much like the parking violation except it costs more money– the violation is against the car and its owner, not the driver.

    Whether 31 mph in a 30 mph zone is an infraction? I don’t remember the latin word for it, but I think there is something in legal systems that “justice doesn’t deal with trifles” (probably wrong but it is close.)

    • AAfterwit says:

      Mr. Hinton,

      You and I are not far off here.

      There are studies that show that increasing the length of the yellow light saves lives, lowers property damage and decreases the number of accidents. We agree with you there. Where we disagree is that at a 30 mph intersection, the Federal guidelines recommend a 3 second delay between the yellow and red. Many of the worst intersection as far as accidents or as far as tickets are concerned have yellow lights shorter than that. Studies indicate that extending the time of the yellow light does reduce accidents. So I would agree with your postulation that a long yellow light would be hard to ignore and the data supports that. What isn’t supported is the length of the light you suggest.

      The list of studies is by a variety of sources. Feel free to agree or disagree with them as much as you wish. The site I gave is simply a starting place for people to look at the data.

      I agree with you that judges should not decide cases on what is right or wrong in their minds. This post was about a lawyer who was elected to a judge who is fighting to overturn the way red light cameras are dealt with. I would hope he would recuse himself from any case that came before him dealing with red light cameras.

      As for “facing your accuser” you are once again right and wrong. While you don’t have the ability to confront the actual red light camera, neither do you have the right to see the maintenance, the settings or the computer coding of the red light camera. With a parking meter, you do.

      Thanks again for commenting!

      A. Afterwit.

  2. […] week we wrote about newly elected Judge Stephen Koons and his “crusade” against red light […]