Breaking the law: speeders or speed enforcers?

Recent media attention across the United States has people chattering about photo enforcement. Although speed and red light cameras (the most prevalent of photo enforcement) have been in use for decades, recent controversies have pitted law enforcers...

Lawsuits Many agencies, local governments and speed enforcement businesses have ended up in court. The legal arguments run the gamut from procedural inadequacy, to separation of powers, to privacy to a number of constitutional violations. IIHS provides a comprehensive summary of automated enforcement decisions that can help agencies decipher legal issues.

“There are a minority of people who are mistaken in the belief that there is some right to privacy driving down the street,” explains Herrmann. “The courts have never upheld that. But people believe that and believe it very strongly, and they tend to speak out and they speak out angrily. Nobody wants a ticket but the courts have not held that you have a right to privacy driving down a public street. You don’t have the right to break the law and get away with it just because you’re in your car.”

Herrmann believes the current legal climate is positive for photo enforcement. “Courts have found repeatedly that there are no due process issues because police review the evidence before deciding whether to issue a citation. Also, courts have ruled that there is no expectation or right to privacy in a public intersection. And there are no legitimate challenges to photo enforcement technology because the components, radar, inductive loops and high-resolution photography have been used and accepted for decades.”

In a technology case, LTI will assist departments by standing by its equipment. “We have expert witnesses that will testify in support of the technology,” Adkins states.

Summing up the legal situation, Herrmann says: “On any issue, different judges can reach different conclusions, but virtually every instance of lawsuits challenging the legality of photo enforcement has failed. Precedents supporting the constitutionality of photo enforcement programs have been set across the country, including the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals. Those include decisions where the claims included violations of the confrontation clause, violations of due process and violations of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments—all rejected. The only rulings not in favor of photo enforcement involved poorly written ordinances. So, the underlying legality of photo enforcement has been confirmed repeatedly across the country. As far as returning funds, that has only happened a handful of times.”

Cameras of the future

Even as communities continue to struggle with issues surrounding photo enforcement, technology continues to advance and expand uses for this type of equipment. Recently in California, successful tests were run utilizing camera technology to delay a red light if a car is traveling too fast to safely stop. Also, cameras are being used to detect, document and cite drivers who are following too closely, which is also a major factor in accidents. “The important thing for law enforcement to know is we’ve been doing this for 25 years and this is our only business,” says Herrmann. “Whether [cameras] are bringing in revenue isn’t the issue. What they do is make my community safer, and as a police officer that is what I’m looking for.”

Adkins adds that this is the future of this type of enforcement. Speed cameras are being used all over the United States and the world to deter speeding and change behind-the-wheel behavior. “The public thinks, ‘there aren’t enough officers on the road to catch me.’ The whole point is to at least put that thought (that cameras will) into their head. Maybe it will slow them down.”


Michelle Perin, who has a master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice, worked for the Phoenix (Ariz.) Police Department for almost eight years. Reach her at
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