Drivers along U.S. 69 on the southwest edge of town may still get that sinking feeling when they catch a camera flash out of the corners of their eyes, but they won’t be getting a ticket for them anytime soon.
As they have for nearly five years, the red light cameras at the intersection of U.S. 69 and Vintage Drive, and further north at U.S. 69 and McCleary Road, are still snapping away at any vehicle that’s in the intersection after the light turns red. But after a court ruling cast red light camera tickets into doubt about two months ago, the tickets remain unissued.
The court ruling in the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, in early November applied specifically to the city of Ellisville, a community of about 7,500 residents on the west side of St. Louis. But its ramifications stretched across the state, as several cities that, like Ellisville, contract with the Arizona-based company America Traffic Solutions (ATS) for red light camera programs put a halt to the tickets issued for violations caught on film.
In Excelsior Springs, the situation is unchanged nearly two months later.
“The status of photo enforcement of red light violations is still on hold in Excelsior Springs,” said Police Chief John McGovern. “Based on the most recent Missouri Court of Appeals ruling, it will be necessary to identify the driver of the vehicle violating the red light. Our system is not currently set up to do that.”
Since the cameras began recording violations—and a fair share of accidents and other incidents—in January 2009, literally hundreds of drivers each month have been “caught in the act” and issued tickets with fines of about $100. Some have challenged the tickets and had the charge dismissed; others have paid their fines. But the court ruling cast doubt on whether, as most red light camera ordinances stipulate, a non-moving violation ticket can be issued for a violation that clearly involves a moving vehicle.
The cameras and their function have been the subject of some controversy over the last five years, with critics calling them an invasion of privacy. Some have also claimed they’re seen by the city as a source of revenue, a charge that police and city officials have denied.
In fact, McGovern said it might be some time before tickets resume—if they ever do. But in the meantime, he said he hopes that the cameras have another effect that has little, if anything, to do with tickets and fines.
“The system is still functioning and recording violations,” McGovern said. “However, we are not processing them. We expect this issue to eventually be decided by the Missouri Supreme Court, but that may take some time.”
But, he added, the presence of the cameras has led many drivers to be more conscious of their driving habits, which makes the roadways safer.
“Serious accidents have decreased at those intersections that have cameras set up, so they are doing what we had expected them to do,” McGovern said.
By Eric Copeland • firstname.lastname@example.org