Minnesota Legislature authorizes study of speed cameras

Minnesota Legislature approves study of speed cameras

Minnesota Legislature approves study of speed cameras

Most of the attention on the transportation policy and finance bill passed by the legislature last month focused on higher gas taxes, a delivery tax and a new metro area sales tax. However, a small, 20-line section of the bill could one day lead to authorization of “speed cameras” that result in you getting a speeding ticket issued remotely.

The bill calls for the commissioner of public safety to convene a task force to assist in the development of a study of possibly legalizing cameras to detect speeders. The bill directs the task for a report “that identifies a process and associated policies for issuance of a mailed citation to the owner or lessee of a motor vehicle that a speed safety camera system detects is operated in violation of a speed limit.”

In other words, a speeding ticket could be mailed to you remotely without a sworn law enforcement officer seeing you driving above the speed limit.

“A lot of construction workers are asking for this,” says Rep. Erin Koegel, DFL-Spring Lake Park, one of the authors of the provision. “You know when they’re doing these road construction projects on very busy roads… it’s unsafe.”

Although Koegel is most interested in getting speed cameras in construction zones to reduce the need for police or State Patrol resources in those areas, she says camera use could be expanded if the state can determine an equitable and efficient way to do it. “What are the barriers to automated enforcement? And how do we make sure we’re doing it properly so we’re getting the right people and the right vehicles?”

That was a problem in the early 2000s when the City of Minneapolis implemented a “red light” camera program to reduce the number of crashes in intersections after drivers ran through red lights. Although the program significantly reduced crashes at intersections, the Minnesota Supreme Court struck down the program in 2007, in part because it wasn’t authorized under state law. However, there were other problems.

“The detection cameras could barely tell who was in the car at all,” says Marshall Tanick, an attorney who led a class action lawsuit against the program that became known as the “camera cop” or “photo cop” case. “In fact, you couldn’t make out the driver. Also, there were many mistakes made in the camera work itself.”

Tanick says the Minneapolis program ticketed vehicle owners whether they were driving the vehicle or not, which conflicted with state law. The court also had questions about the program, presuming people guilty unless they could prove their innocence. “For the typical, normal driver, they don’t have the resources, the time or the money to challenge the accuracy of the cameras,” Tanick said.

That’s why Koegel says if Minnesota is to join 18 other states and the District of Columbia in authorizing speed cameras, she says it needs to be done right by considering due process, an appeals process and “technology options, constraints and factors.”

When the Supreme Court struck down the Minneapolis “red light” cameras, the city was ordered to refund $2.6 million to nearly 15,000 drivers cited under the program.