Half of red light camera tickets remain unpaid

(WMC Action News 5)
Updated: Nov. 5, 2018 at 10:54 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Three little words that can make a driver’s blood boil: red light cameras.

Memphis started the controversial traffic program nearly a decade ago.

Today, red light cameras across the city crank out thousands of tickets each week, but only about half get paid.

Red light cameras are a cash cow for the city of Memphis, generating $26 million in the last 10 years.

But do you really have to pay the fine? Legal experts and at least one state lawmaker say "no."

At 31 intersections, 55 red light cameras capture about 2,000 red light runners a week in the city of Memphis.

“Everybody’s trying to get money,” said Memphis driver Brien Charles.

Charles opted not to pay his ticket.

"I still have it,” he said. “I just kept it, I guess for future reference if someone tried to bring it up. But I haven't had anyone to contact me about it. So I'm just keepin' it moving!"

He’s not alone. Of the 120,000 red light camera tickets issued in 2017, only about half – 62,000 – were paid.

Since red light cameras were first installed in Memphis in 2009, more than $724,000 tickets have been mailed out.

Only 435,000 drivers have paid up.

"I understand the objection to that,” said law professor Steve Mulroy. “It seems a little Orwellian, a little Big Brother.”

Mulroy said despite drivers' outrage about being spied on, red light cameras are constitutionally legal.

However, Mulroy said Tennessee law has no teeth when it comes to collecting fines.

"Red light cameras in other states are enforced, just like other tickets,” Mulroy said. “So it's really just a peculiarity of Tennessee law that they are considered to be not strictly enforced."

State Representative Andy Holt (R) from Dresden famously burned his red light camera tickets on Facebook.

He's launched a one-man campaign telling Tennesseans they don't have to pay.

"There is nothing here that anything can affect your credit score,” Holt said. “It can't affect your driver's license points. It can't affect your insurance rates b/c this is not a real citation."

Holt successfully passed legislation requiring this statement to be printed on all red light camera tickets: "non-payment of this notice cannot adversely affect your credit score, driver's license, or insurance rates."

This notice also appears in fine print: a warning your debt could be turned over to a collection service.

Neither the City of Memphis or the company that operates the cameras. American Traffic Solutions refers anyone to collections.

Just ask Memphis Police Department, and they'll tell you failure to pay a red light camera ticket doesn't go on your record:

Although MPD prefers you do the right thing when presented with pictures or video of yourself blowing through a red light.

"I think most people are law abiding and they see it and they realize they did it and they own up to their mistake and accept responsibility for it,” said Deputy Chief Don Crowe.

Memphis police stand to gain from you paying. The city's red light camera program has generated $26 million since it started.

Part of the revenue goes to neighborhood watch programs, and some of the money's been used to buy more SkyCops for the city's poorest neighborhoods.

"We're in favor of anything that increases public safety,” Crowe said.

So while you might see red when ticketed for running a red, if you're like Charles, you could become a bit more cautious at every stoplight.

"Well, I'm always watching my speed now,” Charles said. “I don't approach. I stop. If I'm not all the way up under it, I don't go. Precaution!"

Charles slows it down now, but do other drivers? Have red light cameras really made Memphis streets any safer?

WMC5 takes a look at the latest data and a surprising confession from Memphis Police Department in the second part of this special report.

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