Do traffic cameras prevent due process? An Ohio court rules yes

A Butler County judge in Ohio ruled in February that traffic cameras that give tickets violate the Ohio and United States constitutional rights of drivers because they eliminate the possibility of due process, a requirement of the Fifth Amendment.

Mary Altaffer/AP/File
New York City Police Department wireless video recorders are photographed attached to a lamp post on the corner of Knickerbocker Ave and Starr St. in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Unmanned speed cameras have been outlawed in Ohio.

Imagine getting five $95 speeding tickets in one day. That is what happened to one family in Ohio’s New Miami when they got lost and passed by the same traffic camera multiple times.

In Ohio, the use of automated traffic-control technology caused turmoil, lawsuits, and finally, legislation that was passed in March 2015, which requires an officer to be stationed beside each traffic camera for tickets to be issued.

A Butler County judge ruled in 2014 that New Miami was violating drivers’ Ohio and United States constitutional rights because cameras eliminate the possibility of due process, a requirement of the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

Ticketed drivers would not be able to fairly defend themselves based on evidence, testimony, and question of witnesses because the city's witness would read a report written by the company that owns the traffic cameras, which has a financial stake in the process.

The legislation does not solve all problems, however, because drivers cited in New Miami while the cameras were up from 2012 to 2014 are demanding that the more than $3 million collected in speeding fines be returned to them. This may prove troublesome because 40 percent of the fines went to the traffic company that ran the program.

The village’s attorney has told the judge that drivers cannot hold the village responsible for money it didn’t receive and that he will take the case back to the Ohio Supreme Court, according to the Journal-News. 

Last month, a county judge ruled that revenues from new cameras would not be used to settle the lawsuit, but drivers are continuing to pursue their case.

One way the lawsuits and drama could have been avoided is by involving drivers and other stakeholders in a public participatory process, professor emeritus of sociology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Gary T. Marx told The Christian Science Monitor on the phone.

There is a techno fallacy that machines will have the effect they are intended to, Professor Marx says, but that has been proven wrong time and time again. Red light cameras, for example, have been shown to cause people to speed through intersections, thus decreasing road safety, Marx says. Speed cameras have caused some drivers to avoid routes that have them. 

Marx says to make policies that don’t lead to danger, anger, and lawsuits, cities should be humble and “not assume that there is a technological fix for everything.”

Thirteen other states have undergone a similar process, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, ultimately prohibiting the use of speed cameras. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute, 142 communities in the United States still have speed camera programs.

Eliminating discretion and interpretation rarely if ever compresses complex issues into simple answers, Marx says. Cities like New Miami had to learn the hard way, and have replaced their cameras in the sky with handheld versions that full-time officers use. License plates are recorded and tickets are still sent automatically.

“I think it would be a little more acceptable because you actually have the officer sitting out there with the new gun and the camera on it,” David Drake, a New Miami driver told WLWT5 News.

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