Traffic-camera debate: some fodder for discussion

  • By Scott North
  • Friday, May 6, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

Our aim in Need to Know is to provide readers with largely unfiltered information about issues that matter in Snohomish County. Lynnwood’s use of traffic enforcement cameras is attracting attention. Here are some points worth discussing:

1) While Lynnwood now is alone among Snohomish County governments in using the cameras to ticket people who roll through red lights or speed in school zones, that is about to change. Monroe already has cameras installed and is gearing up to issue citations. Everett has a law on the books allowing the cameras, although no plans right now to move forward. Mukilteo had a similar law. It’s future became clouded by an initiative and litigation pending before the state Supreme Court.

2) Traffic enforcement cameras have been allowed in Washington since 2005. Many local governments have been hanging back though, waiting for the courts to resolve a 2009 class-action lawsuit challenging several aspects of how the camera law is being applied. The contested issues included the legality of traffic enforcement camera contracts entered by cities such as Seattle, Tacoma and, yes, Lynnwood.3) American Traffic Solutions, Inc., the Arizona company that Lynnwood contracts with for enforcement cameras, joined lawyers representing cities around Washington in defending their practices. U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour in 2010 ruled in favor of the cities and camera companies. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in late March reached the same conclusion.

4) American Traffic Solutions has been entering similar contracts around the country and insists many lives are being saved by what it routinely calls “safety cameras.”

5) Lynnwood, too, focuses on safety. The $4.7 million in camera enforcement fines it has collected since January 2010 are evidence of lawless behavior, officials say. This week Lynnwood complained The Herald was unfair for not paying more attention to reported safety benefits.

6) American Traffic Solutions applauded the city, tweeting: “Great job! (Lynnwood) setting the record straight about installation of their road safety cameras with HeraldNet.”

7) American Traffic Solutions is a privately held corporation. As part of the 2009 class-action case, it filed a corporate disclosure statement in federal court, acknowledging more than 10 percent of its stock is owned by the Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., one of the nation’s largest financial institutions.

8) The same lawyer who represented American Traffic Solutions in federal court now is representing Mukilteo Citizens for Simple Government. That group is trying to overturn the initiative overwhelmingly supported by Mukilteo voters in November restricting enforcement cameras and limiting fines. The traffic camera company campaigned against the initiative. The Supreme Court is to take up the issue late this month.

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