New York City won dismissal of a lawsuit challenging its red-light cameras, the first in the U.S., the day before New Jersey is scheduled to shut down its program.
Drivers fined for running traffic lights sued the city in December 2012, seeking refunds and a halt to the program, saying the system’s yellow signals are shorter in duration than the law allows.
New York State Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Freed dismissed the suit in an order dated Dec. 9 and made public on Monday, Dec. 15, saying the plaintiffs didn’t prove their $50 fines were “disproportionate to the nature of the dangerous offense of passing through a red light.”
New Jersey’s red-light cameras will go dark on Tuesday, Dec. 16, when a pilot program begun in 2009 expires without a bill to extend it. It’s one of about six states to abandon the program.
New York became the first U.S. city to use red-light cameras in the 1990s. The state passed legislation in April 1998 allowing the city to implement the program and install cameras at 50 locations, according to the lawsuit. Other bills were passed in June 2006 and April 2009 allowing additional cameras, according to the suit.
More than 500 municipalities in 24 states followed, but some local and state officials are now reconsidering the programs after outcry and lawsuits from drivers who say the equipment is unfair, error-prone and can cause accidents. Last year, the number of camera programs fell for the first time, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
According to the New York suit, the city’s traffic lights changing to red display yellow for a shorter time than the federal minimum of three seconds and the city installed 168 more cameras than state law permits.
Freed said the program doesn’t violate the due process rights of those who were fined, as it allows them to challenge the penalties through an administrative tribunal and gives them an opportunity to appear for hearings to contest the charges.
The plaintiffs instead contested the fines through the mail and didn’t appeal the decision upholding them, Freed said.
The judge also said the drivers can’t prove that the city unjustly enriched itself because they “cannot assert in good faith that it is against equity and good conscience to allow a municipality to levy fines against individuals who drive through red lights and thus pose a danger to society.”
The plaintiffs also didn’t allege that the city knew the traffic lights at the locations where the alleged violations occurred remained yellow for less than three seconds, Freed said.
The city is pleased with the court’s decision, Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the Law Department, said in an e-mail.
Brian Brick, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a phone interview that he’s disappointed with the ruling and that he’s reviewing it.
“We continue to maintain that we have viable claims,” Brick said. “We’ll see where we go from here.”
The case is Halberstam v. New York City, 654239/2012, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).
With assistance from Terrence Dopp in Trenton and Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco.
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