Missouri Court Ruling Goes Against Red-Light Camera Programs

A recent appeals court ruling in Missouri says state law invalidates the way cities there enforce their red-light camera programs.

In a decision that has already had an impact on red-light camera programs throughout the state, the appellate court ruled that the enforcement of a red light program in Ellisville, Mo., incorrectly categorized offenses as a nonmoving violation, which leads to no violation points being charged to an offender’s driving record.

However, the court said last week, that enforcement exposed an underlying conflict with state law, which mandates that red-light running is a moving violation that requires offenders be charged driver’s license points.

Since state traffic regulations supersede local laws, according to the three-judge panel, the enforcement of red-light camera violations in Ellisville and other similarly enforced programs in Missouri cities are “void and unenforceable.”

“By failing to require the municipal court to report a violation of the Ordinance as a moving violation to the director of revenue for the assessment of points, Ellisville permits what state law prohibits—a moving violation without the assessment of points,” according to the ruling.

The day after the ruling was issued out of the eastern district of the Missouri Court of Appeals, the Kansas City Star reported that the city was lifting its enforcement of thousands of tickets and more than 15,000 warrants related to the red-light camera program.

Other cities have either nixed their programs or are reviewing enforcement as the appeals court ruling is expected to reach the state Supreme Court, according to media reports.

What Are the Insurance Implications?

Larry Case, executive vice president for the Missouri Association of Insurance Agents (MAIA), said that the ruling shouldn’t have any broad impact on premium costs for Missouri auto insurance, though he said policyholders should take note if they get snapped by a red-light camera in the future.

“I do not believe this ruling has any immediate impact on insurance rates or that we will see any impact on rates in general,” Case told Online Auto Insurance News (OAIN). “How any of the municipalities that have passed such ordinances react will determine whether it could eventually impact individual policyholders who may be cited through the use of red light cameras in the future.”

Points on a driver’s license often inflate premiums that motorists pay for auto insurance, though the severity of price hikes depend on the state and insurer.

Judges Sidestep ‘Political Debate’ in Ruling

The validity and effectiveness of red-light cameras have been flashpoints of nationwide discussions about traffic safety and civil liberties. The controversy wasn’t unnoticed in light of the latest court decision.

Case said that Ellisville likely detached driver’s license points from red-light camera offenses in what “appears to be a political decision to somewhat appease opponents of the red light cameras.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an industry-funded organization, has long supported camera-based programs as automated enforcement that promotes safer driving.

According to the IIHS, as of the beginning of this month, 509 communities in 23 states throughout the U.S. have red-light camera programs.

In the appeals court decision, the three-judge panel noted the “political debate that has engulfed the issue of municipal red-light camera enforcement,” but said that controversy had no influence on the ruling.

“These political arguments, as passionate as they may be, have no bearing on our decision as we are guided only by applying firmly established legal principles to the facts of the record before us,” the court said.

Those political arguments are likely to continue, even with the latest court decision.

“Municipalities now must determine whether they want to change the classification of red light camera violations, cease use of such devices or lobby the Missouri General Assembly in 2014 to alter state statutes to address the court decision,” Case told OAIN.

The Missouri Department of Insurance told OAIN that it was “unable to speculate at this time” about the impact of the decision on car insurance in the state.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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