Caught by a red light camera? Some argue quotes are illegal and you don’t have to pay for them :: WRAL.com
Red light traffic cameras are designed to reduce serious accidents. Cities typically install them at intersections with high crash rates, especially those where T-crashes are extremely dangerous.
Despite research showing they have an impact, the remote enforcement tool remains under fire from critics.
“I believe they are unconstitutional,” attorney and former state legislator Paul Stam said when asked about citations mailed to vehicle owners whose cars are caught on camera.
Stam has a long history of fighting red light cameras in court.
“They trap innocent people,” he says.
Cary physicist Brian Ceccarelli is no stranger to wrestling with red-light camera citations.
“About 99% of these things are erroneously issued,” he told WRAL Investigates.
WRAL Investigates first encountered Ceccarelli in 2010 when he sued the town of Cary over his contention that yellow lights were too short for a safe stop.
“By shorting the yellow light, the town of Cary is risking everyone’s life,” he told Us at the time.
Cary finally ditched his red light cameras, but years later Ceccarelli is still on a mission with his website Red Light Thief.
Below State Law, 19 cities and towns in North Carolina, as well as any municipality in Union County, may have red light camera programs. Due to lawsuits or the logistics of running the program, only four cities still have them: Raleigh, Fayetteville, Wilmington and Greenville.
the North Carolina Court of Appeals recently ruled that Greenville violated its promise to pay schools 90% of red-light citation revenue.
“In Greenville, it’s only 70%. It’s unconstitutional,” Stam said.
He said there was also an issue with citation payments in Wilmington, which could lead to another legal battle.
“I felt like I was trapped somehow,” Wilmington driver Todd Platzer told us in a virtual interview.
Platzer is set to sue the city of Wilmington over an old red light citation based on too short yellow lights and too little revenue for schools.
Fines in the four cities that have red light cameras range from $50 to $100 per citation, but there is growing debate over who should pay.
“Well, I don’t believe that’s a legal debt,” Platzer said. “I think it’s just someone mailing you a ticket because you did something they didn’t like.”
For some reason, not many people pay their fines. Through a public records request, WRAL Investigates discovered that over the past three years, Raleigh has sent more than 96,000 citations. 65,000 – about 68% – are unpaid. In Fayetteville, 94,000 citations over the same period were sent out. Some 38% are unpaid.
“You don’t have to,” Ceccarelli said of paying the fines. “There’s no repercussions, nothing. They’re not going to reach into your credit report. They’re not going to revoke your driver’s license.”
His Red Light Robber website includes public posts from people who have never paid and never heard a word. Others say the tickets were sent to collections, but the drivers had removed the money owed from their credit reports.
The state law reads, “The municipality may establish procedures for the collection of such penalties and may enforce the penalties by civil action in the nature of a debt.”
Raleigh and Fayetteville said unpaid citations are periodically sent to collections, but it appears collections never reach the courts. In Raleigh, we found no record of the city’s red-light contractor or his collection agency filing “money due” orders in civil court.
WRAL Investigates asked Raleigh about the program and the unpaid citation rate.
In a statement, Michael Moore, director of the Raleigh Department of Transportation did not address this issue.
However, he said, “The City of Raleigh has a number of red light cameras at intersections with a history of accidents related to the operation of red lights. The camera program is a significant enhancement to the safety and a proven tool to reduce accidents and help keep people safe.”
“I would just pay because I pay parking tickets,” Stam said if he was caught running a red light. “I was a politician. Someone could use this against me if I didn’t. Could they get it back if I didn’t pay? Probably not.”
Under no circumstances do Stam or Ceccarelli recommend running red lights. It is dangerous whether the yellow lights are too short or not. They simply believe that enforcing remote cameras with dubious collection is not enough to protect the public.