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Red light camera fines: Judge dismisses lawsuit against 18 cities

A judge dismissed a class action lawsuit filed against 18 defendants, including Federal Way, by plaintiffs with grievances against red light and speed zone photo enforcement fines.

U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour ruled in the case March 2. The cities named in the lawsuit were Federal Way, Auburn, Bellevue, Bonney Lake, Bremerton, Burien, Fife, Issaquah, Lacey, Lake Forest Park, Lakewood, Lynnwood, Puyallup, Renton, SeaTac, Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma. Red Flex Traffic Systems Inc. and American Traffic Systems Inc., both operators of camera enforcement systems, were also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Source of contention

The lawsuit was filed June 23 and brought by more than 40 drivers who claimed tickets issued in conjunction with the defendants' enforcement cameras are unlawful.

Legislation that permitted the cameras in Washington was intended to allow the devices, but restrict the price of tickets for crimes caught by the cameras, plaintiffs claimed. Tickets issued by photo enforcement cameras are not to be larger in price than a typical parking ticket, they claimed. The lawsuit sought restitution for the fines paid to the cities by the plaintiffs, an injunction that would prohibit the jurisdictions from continuing to issue ticket amounts exceeding those of typical parking violations, and a judgment for costs and fees associated with the lawsuit.

Coughenour ruled that the photo enforcement fines are legal.

"The court agrees that the code grants municipalities flexibility in determining fine levels, and that the fines are not excessive," according to Coughenour's order of dismissal.

The law states: "Infractions detected through the use of automated traffic safety cameras are not part of the registered owner's driving record under RCW 46.52.101 and 46.52.120. Additionally, infractions generated by the use of automated traffic safety cameras under this section shall be processed in the same manner as parking infractions... However, the amount of the fine issued for an infraction generated through the use of an automated traffic safety camera shall not exceed the amount of a fine issued for other parking infractions within the jurisdiction."

Defendants

The 18 defendants charge roughly five times the amount of a typical parking ticket for violations caught by enforcement cameras. In several of the cities, photo enforcement tickets generally range from $101 to $124. Georgina Luke, of Seattle, was a party in the suit. Luke received a $124 ticket for failing to come to a complete stop before making a right-hand turn in December 2008 at a photo enforced intersection in Federal Way, according to court documents.

Tickets generated through photo enforcement in Federal Way far exceed the city's average parking ticket. A typical parking ticket costs $20, Lt. John Stieben said. The most expensive parking ticket can cost up to $250, for illegally parking in a handicap stall, he said. A red light photo enforcement violation in Federal Way costs $124 — the minimum amount charged for all moving violations in the city, Stieben said. Tickets issued in photo enforced speed zones start at $210, he said. The fine is hefty because Federal Way's speed enforcing cameras are located in school zones. By law, school zone speeding violations are accompanied by robust tickets.

Federal Way celebrates a victory

The City of Federal Way felt comfortable throughout the court process and was confident it had done no wrong, city manager Brian Wilson said Tuesday.

Federal Way uses seven red light photo enforcement cameras and two speed zone cameras. The red light cameras are placed at two approaches to the Highway 161/Enchanted Parkway and South 348th Street intersection; all approaches to the South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South/Highway 99 intersection; and at one approach to the South 312th Street and Pacific Highway South/Highway 99 intersection. The speed zone cameras are located at Twin Lakes Elementary, 4400 S.W. 320th St., and 21st Avenue South near Saghalie Middle School, 33914 19th Ave. S.W.

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