The Fourth of July is one of the busiest traffic days of the year and many motorists will be travelling to unfamiliar areas -- often outside of their home state. Local residents are usually well aware of the quirks of their community's traffic laws, but unfortunately most out-of-state visitors don't have that luxury.
While the majority of drivers are wary of increased holiday traffic enforcement patrols -- and take measures to protect themselves from undeserved tickets -- it may surprise even the most experienced drivers that some states are no longer relying solely on human officers to hand out the tickets.
Speed cameras, which take pictures of vehicles that exceed the speed limit and send tickets to the owners of those vehicles, have spread across the country and are now used in several states. Motorists who don't live in areas with speed cameras are likely to be taken completely by surprise by these automated ticketing machines.
The National Motorists Association (www.motorists.org) strongly opposes the use of ticket cameras and has been an outspoken leader in the fight to ban them nationwide. Currently, fourteen states have decided to ban ticket cameras and the momentum is growing in other states as well.
It has become clear that many aspects of ticket camera programs in these states are unfair to motorists:
* Most governments using speed cameras send out tickets via first class mail. However, there is no guarantee that the accused motorists will even receive the ticket, let alone understand it and know how to respond. Nevertheless, the government makes the assumption that the ticket was received. If motorists fail to pay, it is assumed that they did so on purpose, and a warrant may be issued for their arrest.
* Typically, the photos taken by these cameras do not identify the actual driver of the offending vehicle. The owner of the vehicle is mailed the ticket, even if the owner was not driving the vehicle and may not know who was driving at the time. The owner of the vehicle is then forced to prove his or her innocence, often by identifying the actual driver who may be a family member, friend or employee.
* Drivers may not receive citations until days or sometimes weeks after the alleged violation. This makes it very difficult to defend oneself because it would be hard to remember the circumstances surrounding the supposed violation.
Despite these critical flaws, and the lack of evidence showing that speed cameras have any effect on the safety of motorists, some states continue to insist on using them to pad their budgets.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), there are 49 communities using these automated ticket machines. Drivers should be aware that the communities listed below have decided that cashing in on motorists is more important than protecting the rights of drivers:
Statewide (Arizona Department of Public Safety), Chandler, El Mirage, Mesa, Paradise Valley, Phoenix, Pinal County, Prescott Valley, Scottsdale, Star Valley, Tempe, Tucson
Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins
District of Columbia
Statewide (work zones)
Broussard, Gretna, Lafayette, Livingston Parish, New Orleans, Sulphur, Westwego, Zachary
Albuquerque, Las Cruces
Akron, East Cleveland, Northwood, Parma, Toledo, West Carrollton
Beaverton, Medford, Portland
Chattanooga, Jackson, Jonesborough, Mount Carmel, Oak Ridge, Red Bank, Selmer
Bremerton, Burien, Issaquah, Monroe, Tacoma
Source: IIHS May 2009