Watch out for the stop-and-go traffic in St. Paul. Not just on the expressways, but in the statehouse, where an on-again, off-again attempt to permit cameras to nab red-light-runners is back after a similar effort was tossed out in court last year.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, would allow Minnesota cities to use automated cameras to photograph license plates of cars running red lights. The vehicle owners would get tickets in the mail whether they were in the driver's seat or not.
The move would reprise a red-light program in Minneapolis, which turned on its cameras and began issuing tickets in 2005 before hitting a roadblock last year. In April 2007, the state Supreme Court ruled that the city's ordinance violated a law requiring uniform traffic laws throughout the state. How was a Duluth driver to know, the justices concluded in essence, that a camera in Fergus Falls meant "smile" while one in Minneapolis meant "gotcha!"?
Thissen's bill answers that by giving every city in the state the right to use the cameras and the motorists the presumption they are being used. It also begins to address the issue of who's driving the car by providing exceptions for owners who can prove their cars were leased to someone or stolen.
That's a start, but what about an owner simply loaning a car to a friend, or a husband and wife who share the driving in a car registered to only one of them? Would their word be good enough to establish who was at the wheel? As the court stated in its ruling, "The problem with the presumption that the owner was the driver is that it eliminates the presumption of innocence."
Thissen, a lawyer, said the court's issue was primarily about shifting the burden of proof to the defendant. His bill, he told the News Tribune editorial page staff, minimizes that concern by prohibiting any violation from being used to suspend a driver's license or affect a driving record. ...
There's no question that anyone running a red light is breaking the law, and one fatality, or even one injury, is too many. Drivers who risk that chance just to get to the mall a few seconds faster should be prosecuted to the extent of the law, and the cameras can offer robotic traffic enforcement where police officers can't always be on patrol.
But the technology to snap a driver's mug shot to go with the license plate isn't there yet -- at least not for cars. ...
Minneapolis' program ended up with the city liable for refunding vehicle owners as much as $2.8 million, as well as the administrative nightmare of undoing the mess, after the ordinance was tossed. Thissen's bill, if passed without definitively answering who's driving the car, probably would suffer the same fate. In its present form, a red light is warranted.
DULUTH NEWS-TRIBUNE, MARCH 11