Seattle Red Light Camera Issuing Illegal Tickets

According to King 5 News, red light camera tickets generated at a high-traffic intersection are being thrown out in court by local judges because the tickets are illegal:

Traffic judges have declared the camera set-up illegal at a busy intersection near the University of Washington and they’ve tossed tickets out, but the city is still ticketing unsuspecting motorists.

NE 45th Street at Union Bay Place NE is not your typical intersection. […]

The five-way intersection has a dizzying configuration of lights and signs and turn lanes. And towering over it all are camera systems on the lookout for red-light runners.

Recently they recorded  video of an eastbound car on NE 45th Street. It clearly shows the car cruising through the intersection after the light turned red. The driver got a costly ticket for $124 in the mail.

But on Monday Seattle traffic judge Francis deVilla dismissed the infraction.

He didn’t respond to the KING 5 Investigators’ repeated requests for an explanation.

But the City Attorney’s Office says it was just informed deVilla ruled that the camera system is illegal at the intersection. The judge apparently based that decision on state law which says cameras are restricted to intersections where two arterial roads meet – your typical four-way stop.

But then, NE 45th Street at Union Bay is a five-way intersection.

Chris Ingalls, the King 5 News reporter who wrote the story, asks some interesting questions about the city’s actions:

At $124 a ticket, this could be potentially be a million-dollar intersection for the city since it installed cameras there a year and a half ago.

We’ve learned legal questions were raised months ago in a lawsuit now being heard in federal court.

And the City Attorney’s Office acknowledges that Seattle traffic judge Adam Eisenberg dismissed at least one ticket at the same intersection.

So why does the city continue to issue tickets and fines at a controversial intersection?

The City Attorney’s Office believes the intersection is legal and says it will likely fight all these challenges.

Meantime, the city continues to write an average of 16 tickets a day at that one intersection.

Red light camera programs in Washington are already under fire for charging more for tickets than is permissable under state law. There are currently at least two bills pending in the legislature that would reduce ticket camera fines:

  1. Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, is the sponsor of a bill (HB2780) that would cap fines at $25 and mandate longer yellow light times.
  2. Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, has offered a similar bill (SB6410) to cap fines at $42.

With all this controversy, perhaps it’s time for Washington to join the 15 states who have banned automated ticketing instead?

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