Many photographed while running red lights in the city of Los Angeles are now saying "cheese" when they see the ubiquitous camera flash. That is because the city council unanimously decided to abandon the red light ticket program, effectively July 31, 2011. Los Angeles is not alone. Nine states and more than a dozen cities, including Houston, TX and Sioux Falls, SD, have canceled their red light camera programs.
The City's decision purportedly made the choice of whether or not to pay such tickets a voluntary one.
So it's time to celebrate? Hooray, hurrah. No more costly tickets for the speedier among us? Not so fast.
It actually is unclear whether or not those receive the tickets should pay up. News outlets previously reported that the city lacked the ability to penalize those who opted not to pay the fine. But now those who received red light tickets and chose not to pay are getting hefty notices from collection agencies working for the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The Los Angeles Superior Court has provided little guidance to motorists. The Department of Motor Vehicles, however, is likely none too happy with the Superior Court, which has decided not to compel holds on the driver's licenses and vehicle registrations of those refusing to pay the red light tickets. In sum, if you opt not to pay your ticket, you can still get your driver's license and your vehicle registration, but you might also note from the collection agency.
Let's add one more wrinkle. There were many reports that the red-light program in Los Angeles was canceled. That is true - regardless of the fact that no one knows the consequences of that decision - but only in the city of Los Angeles. Those in surrounding cities in the County are still very much on the hook. Beverly Hills, for instance, has talked of expanding its red-light ticket program.
The program was largely a bust in the City of Angels. Since 2004, less than two-thirds of those who received tickets 2004 paid their fines. It cost the city a pretty penny to try to collect from the more than one-third those ticketed who apparently thought the fines were optional even before the city canceled the program. And actually, the way the law was written, they might have been right.
For now the question remains unanswered. It would be nice of one branch, any branch, of our municipal government could work on giving motorists a clear answer. If there is one thing that unites most Angelenos, it is driving and traffic. Now the consequences of what unites us also befuddles us. So much for getting a clear edict from the government.
Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government in Los Angeles every week. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School.