The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of New Orleans’ traffic safety speed cameras in a ruling on June 12th. The ruling held that the city’s stated interest in reducing traffic accidents and increasing traffic safety outweighed private interests that objected to the steep fines.
Specifically, the defense argued that privacy and due process were not violated by the cameras, an argument the court affirmed, saying, “no one has a fundamental right to run a red light or avoid being seen by a camera on a public street.”
The ruling was made in answer to an appeal of an earlier case. A group of citizens brought a class-action lawsuit against the city, arguing that the cameras were a violation of due process and privacy concerns. The lower court had ruled against them, and the 5th circuit elected to uphold the lower court’s ruling in this matter. In explaining their reasoning, the Justices of the court said, “The city’s interest is to reduce the risk of road accidents. Though only a fraction of traffic violations cause an accident, the costs of even a low-speed collision can be severe, particularly if a pedestrian is struck.”
The judgment assumes, of course, that speed traffic cameras do indeed increase road safety. However, this argument is in serious dispute. While there are some studies suggesting that the cameras do reduce fatalities, other statistics from the United Kingdom suggest otherwise. The UK has broadly adopted many speed cameras, and in a sample from 75 authorities in the UK, the facts show that the matter is far from clear cut.
In the city of Humberside, for example, one fifth of all sites with speed cameras showed no change in the number of traffic accidents. The number of accidents actually increased at another 17 sites.
Drivers may not have a fundamental right to run a red light, but to argue that speed cameras promote traffic safety is not as obvious a judgment as the 5th circuit claims.