Category Archives: Red Light Cameras

Red Light Cameras Arrive in Spring 2011

Here they come.

Beginning April 1, motorists in Bellingham can expect to see traffic cameras at six locations that have been pinpointed as areas with high instances of speeding in school zones or vehicles running red lights. The first 30 days is an amnesty period where violators will receive warning tickets.

When the City Council voted on the camera ordinance on Nov. 23, Councilman Seth Fleetwood was the lone opposer saying it was a “tough decision.” Ultimately, Fleetwood voted against it saying, “Do we want to live in a place with cameras?”  Fleetwood also disagreed with the City Council’s decision to cancel a public hearing on the subject.  The City Council never rescheduled the meeting.  He called the cancellation “A bad move.”

Based on traffic studies in conjunction with the Bellingham Public Works Department, the Police Department came up with four locations for traffic cameras to detect red-light running: westbound on Holly Street at N. Forest Street; northbound on Ellis Street at Lakeway Drive; northbound on Meridian Street and Telegraph Road; and southbound on Samish Way at 36th Street, near Sehome Village.

Here’s how they work: when a vehicle runs a red light or is detected speeding at one of the intersections, the video equipment is triggered capturing about 12 seconds of footage including the vehicle’s license plate. State law stipulates that the camera may take pictures only from the rear of the vehicle and never the faces of the driver or passengers. Electronic images may not be used for any other purpose and must not be retained longer than necessary to enforce the violation.

The cameras are always in operation but capturing footage only when they are triggered by a vehicle in violation.  Images and video are reviewed by ATS and then a Bellingham Police officer trained on the equipment affirms each violation. If you receive a notice, you can make the payment to ATS or appeal. If you were not the driver of the vehicle, you can contest it in writing.

A ticket generated by the traffic cameras is processed as a “civil infraction” similar to a parking ticket. This is different from a notice of infraction, which occurs when a police officer pulls over a driver accused of running a red light or speeding in a school zone. The notice of infraction is reported to the driver’s auto insurance; the civil infraction is not.

Studies conducted by ATS and other private companies show that camera installation creates safer streets. However, independent studies and those done by news organizations have shown an increase in accidents at intersections where cameras have been installed.

Meantime, at least seven states have banned red-light cameras, including Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Wisconsin, according to Anne Teigen, a transportation specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

My opinion?  Bad idea.  I’ll tell you a secret: yellow lights are timed MUCH shorter at intersections with traffic cameras.  Quite literally, you must be already driving through the intersection when the light turns yellow.  Otherwise, you’ll be caught, pictured, and ticketed.  These traffic lights are not proven to decrease bad driving behavior.  They are, however, proven to increase revenue for municipalities.  THAT’S what this is about.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Bellingham Council Decides To Adopt Cameras Without a Public Hearing

City Council members have decided they want to install red-light and speed-zone cameras, and they won’t hold a public hearing before voting on them. The decision reverses the council’s 6-0 vote on Sept. 27 to hold a hearing on the topic.

The council decided there was no point in going through the “charade” of a public hearing if it was set on approving it anyway, he said. The council’s No. 1 goal is public safety, and members have already heard from the police department, which wants the cameras.

A crash recently killed a little girl near a school, and the city has had other crashes in school zones, Knutson said. Red-light running has long been a problem here, he said.

“We have not heard a lot about this issue from our citizens,” he said. “We’ve been getting bombarded by Tim Eyman and his crew.”

Political personality Tim Eyman is an anti-tax activist who also fights agsint red-light cameras.  He blasted the city’s decision to skip a public hearing.

“That is so sleazy,” Eyman said. “And they wonder why people distrust government. My gosh. They wonder why our initiatives are so popular.  This is just socialistic. This is authoritarian, dictator-type of decision making that doesn’t even give the imaginary illusions of public input,” Eyman said. “You’ve got to admire the audacity of it, it’s just ‘Who cares what the citizens think?'”

My opinion?  I actually agree with Eyman.  True, there is no “on-point” legal precedent stating a public hearing is legally required for decisions like this.  However, when a city council has made up its mind, it will usually hold a hearing to at least give the impression it’s being open-minded.

There are deeper reasons for the lack of public hearing.  First, the recent death of the young girl who was struck by a car near Bellingham High School probably prompted a greater public outcry FOR traffic cameras than AGAINST cameras.  Second, the City sees these cameras generating revenue for City coffers.

Being a staunch supporter of due process, I nevertheless believe the City Council should have adopted a hearing on the subject.  Trust me, Government fails when it skips steps and avoids processes.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.


Bellingham Wants Red-Light Cameras


The City of Bellingham could install an enforcement camera at Holly and Forest streets, the worst intersection in terms of T-bone crashes caused by drivers running red lights.

Under a proposal by Mayor Dan Pike’s administration, that intersection would be one of four spots where police install automated red-light cameras and issue tickets to violators. From 2004 to 2008, six people were injured in 10 crashes caused by cars going through red lights there. Most crashes occurred when a vehicle ran the light on Holly.

The City Council still must decide whether it wants to OK four red-light cameras and two school-zone cameras. An exact date for a decision hasn’t been scheduled yet. If approved, officials hope to install the cameras by the end of the year.


Other cities report different results in terms of revenue generated by the programs. Bellingham is roughly estimating gross revenue of $500,000 a year, but officials aren’t sure what program expenses will be yet. A Bellingham police traffic unit officer will review all violations before any contractor issues a ticket.


State law, which lets cities install the cameras, sets the following requirements on their use:

• They can only be at intersections of two arterials.

• They can’t photograph drivers’ faces.

• The photos aren’t available to the public and can only be used by law enforcement for purposes of the traffic violation.

• The locations of cameras must be clearly marked.

• The amount the city pays to the company providing the equipment can be based only on the value of the equipment and services, not a percentage of ticket revenue.

• Tickets don’t go on a person’s driving record.

• It’s presumed the registered owner was driving at the time. But if people state under oath that somebody else was driving at the time, they can avoid paying the ticket.

My opinion?  I totally agree with one person’s comment to the news article. ViewofLeadership said the following:
“On a very long list of very stupid things this city has done, this one ranks in the top 10. If you think traffic is bad now, just wait until people start slamming on their brakes to avoid these cameras.  If any of you doubt that this about revenue and NOT safety, then go view the red-light camera video KING5 produced for it’s program “Up Front, with Robert Mak”. And consider that the company that leases these cameras enters into a REVENUE sharing agreement with the city and as part of that agreement REQUIRES minimum fines and 3-second duration of the yellow light.  This is a scam upon the citizens by the city!”

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

State v. Magee: Police Officers MUST Witness Traffic Infractions

In State v. Magee, the WA Supreme Court held police officers lack authority to issue traffic citations if the officer fails to witness the infraction take place.

Mr. Magee was cited for second degree negligent driving after the state patrol received reports from other drivers that a vehicle was traveling the wrong direction on the highway.  The dispatched trooper found Magee parked nose-to-nose with a friend’s car, facing the wrong direction on the shoulder of the SR 512 on-ramp.

The trooper assumed Magee had driven against traffic in order to get in this position.  Magee was cited for negligent driving.  He challenged the infraction, arguing the officer lacked authority to issue a citation when she had not witnessed an infraction.  Unfortunately, his traffic court ruled against him.

Magee’s case found its way to the WA Supreme Court.  They reasoned that RCW 46.63.030 lists the instances where a law enforcement officer has the authority to issue a notice of traffic infraction:

(a) When the infraction is committed in the officer’s presence;

(b) When the officer is acting upon the request of a law enforcement officer in whose presence the traffic infraction was committed;

(c) If an officer investigating at the scene of a motor vehicle accident has reasonable cause to believe that the driver of a motor vehicle involved in the accident has committed a traffic infraction;

(d) When the infraction is detected through the use of a photo enforcement system under RCW 46.63.160; or

(e) When the infraction is detected through the use of an automated traffic safety camera under RCW 46.63.170.

The Supremes overturned Magee’s conviction after analyzing the statute: “RCW 46.63.030 plainly requires us to conclude that an officer must either be present when the infraction occurs or meet one of the other statutory circumstances before issuing a ticket. There is no contention subsections (b) through (e) apply in this case.

Instead, the State argues that the trooper actually witnessed the citable offense because the negligent behavior was “ongoing.” But negligent driving in the second degree is a moving violation. For the infraction to be valid, the movement must have been made in the officer’s presence.”

My opinion?  Again, excellent!  Officers shouldn’t hand out traffic infractions if they don’t witness the infraction happen.  PERIOD.  This violates due process.  This new opinion is (thankfully) consistent with State v. Campbell, 31 Wn.App. 833, 644 P.2d 1219 (1982).  I use Campbell in my pretrial motions to suppress unlawfully obtained evidence.

In Campbell, a motorist drove by a Washington State Trooper and yelled to the trooper that there was a drunk driver going southbound.  The unknown witness described the vehicle.  The Trooper caught up to the vehicle but did not observe the driver violate any traffic laws.  Nevertheless, the trooper stopped the vehicle, conducted a DUI investigation, and arrested the driver for DUI.

The Campbell court concluded that although a police officer may conduct an investigatory stop for suspected drunk driving, but before doing so, s/he must first possess a well-founded suspicion based on articulable facts that such a violation of law was or is presently being committed.

Good job, WA Supremes!

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Bellingham Police Enforce Bicycle Laws More Heavily

With the onset of worsening weather conditions and fewer hours of daylight, a new “education and enforcement” effort is under way to help bicyclists and cars better share the road.

Under the new program, police officers are encouraged to treat bicyclists equal to drivers when it comes to stopping and ticketing people for traffic violations. Officers will specifically be looking for lighting violations, which include improperly equipped bicycles, and traffic violations, such as failing to obey stop signs and stop lights.

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission provides a free brochure on its Web site which outlines safety tips for bicyclists as well as the laws bicyclists must follow:

My Opinion?  I’m not buying it.  Can we say, “New and creative way to ticket people and generate revenue for empty City coffers?”  Personally, I don’t see the need for “education and enforcement” of bicycle laws.  No accidents have happened.  There’s no great increase of bicyclists (I’d think fewer, given worse weather conditions).  There’s no growing agitation between bicyclists and motorists.  If it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it.

My greatest concern is that police have more incentive to pull bicyclists over and conduct a DUI investigation. Section 45.61.502 of the Revised Code of Washington, which details driving under the influence and penalties, refers to people driving a vehicle. A vehicle, as defined in RCW 46.04.670, “includes every device capable of being moved upon a public highway and in, upon, or by which any persons or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, including bicycles.”

Not good for bicyclists . . .

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Class Action Lawsuit Challenges “Camera Tickets”

Rosen Law Firm in Seattle is currently researching a class action law suit against many Washington cities that operate red light and speed zone cameras in Washington.  If you have paid for a photo enforcement ticket in Washington, they may be interested in representing you and trying to get your money back.
Apparently, the firm is willing to do so at no cost to you unless they win, and then only a percentage of the amount they recover for you. If you are interested and meet the eligibility requirements of 1) having received a photo enforcement ticket; 2) in Washington; and 3) you paid the ticket, please contact the Rosen Law Firm:

My opinion?  I wish success upon this class action!  Red light camera tickets seem like an easy way for cities and counties to fill their coffers.  And it is working.  For example, the city of Balitmore shortened the yellow light on just one intersection and collected $1000’s in traffic light camera violation fines until one alert victim took them to court.   Additionally, I’ve heard complaints (hearsay, I know) that yellow lights times are SHORTENED if a camera is observing the intersection; and that the cameras actually don’t decrease people’s speed.

Good luck, RosenLaw Firm.  Give ’em Hell!   🙂

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.