Can Missouri Red-Light Camera Tickets Be Thrown Away?

Recent news reports out of St. Louis, Missouri seem to suggest that it’s safe to ignore red-light camera tickets in certain parts of the state.

The Columbia Missourian explains:

“Because most red-light cameras take a picture only of the car — not the driver — it’s difficult for cities here and around the country to make people pay.

Officials acknowledge that, for now, there’s little they can do.

“If you threw it in the trash,” says St. Louis Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr., chairman of the aldermanic Traffic Committee, “nothing would happen.”

In St. Louis, the cameras have raised more than $1.4 million since they were activated nearly a year ago. But many of the fines are going uncollected. In Arnold, about 30 percent of the citations issued from October 2005 through January had not been paid. The nonpayment rate in St. Louis is about 35 percent.

“Right now, we have no active program to go after these people other than request that they comply with the law,” said Timothy W. Kelly, the municipal judge in Florissant.”

The appeal of extra cash for the city budget has prompted quite a few Missouri cities (including Moline Acres, a hamlet less than a square mile in size) to install the cameras despite the fact that they are not sanctioned by the state.

As more people have figured out that the tickets are easily ignored, cities have become more aggressive (and arguably unethical) in their quest to extract money from motorists.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch points to Creve Coeur as an example of this:

“The cameras are not sanctioned by the state, sometimes leaving cities to rely on model ordinances drafted by the for-profit camera companies — who get a slice of each ticket. […]

Creve Coeur does not take pictures of drivers but has been able to maintain close to a 90 percent collection rate on red-light camera fines. Part of its success may have to do with the fine print of the municipal code.

Last year, Creve Coeur established the infraction of “violation of public safety at intersections,” committed when a “motor vehicle of which that person is an owner is present in an intersection” while the traffic signal is red. The law applies only at intersections with cameras. It also allows the city to prosecute individuals for simply not responding to a citation notice. […]

The approach — crafting new laws narrowly tailored to help aid camera enforcement — strikes one expert as dubious.

“It’s what they did to Al Capone,” said St. Louis University law professor Eric J. Miller. “They really wanted Al Capone for racketeering, but they could only prove tax violations. This is worse. Here they are creating a specific crime to punish you because they cannot get you on the first crime.”

So in conclusion, if you receive an unfair red-light camera ticket in Missouri, you may be able to ignore it without consequence. However, due to differences in the local ordinances across the state — like the one in Creve Coeur — this isn’t always a smart option.

At a minimum, always look up the ordinance you’ve been charged under before you decide what to do with your ticket.

Image Credit: LWY

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