Road Management & Engineering Journal
Road Management & Engineering Journal
February 2, 1998
TranSafety, Inc.
(U.S. and Canada)
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402

Photographic Traffic Law Enforcement

(This information is reproduced from the December 1996 "Legal Research Digest" of the Transportation Research Board's National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Photographic Traffic Law Enforcement was written by Daniel T. Gilbert, Nina J. Sines, and Brandon E. Bell. Reproduced here are the introduction, the summary, and a model law included as Appendix G.)

Introduction and Scope of Report

Automated enforcement of traffic laws and rules using photographs and videotapes can be especially effective in monitoring highway-railway grade crossings, enforcing speed limits, and ticketing red light violators. With numerous law enforcement responsibilities, police are finding it more and more difficult to provide the manpower to enforce traffic laws, especially at such places as railroad grade crossings.

This report will provide a background description of photographic traffic enforcement equipment and a discussion of its application for traffic law enforcement. In addition, this report will serve as a legal reference for legislators, policymakers, and lawyers. Specifically, the report will address the use of manned and unmanned devices to monitor speeding and highway-railroad crossings within the context of the law. The report will also discuss the policies underlying the admissibility of such evidence in court proceedings. Furthermore, the report will provide a comparative analysis of the significant photographic traffic enforcement laws in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. It will examine proposed model rules, statutes, and amendments to maximize the use of photographic and videotape evidence. Appendices A and B contain a research guide for the drafter considering photographic enforcement legislation in his or her state. Appendix F provides representative legislation that a drafter can use as a guide for developing a statute or ordinance within his or her state or local community.

This study also examines those legal issues that are likely to be encountered as photographic enforcement technology is increasingly used in the detection, enforcement, and prosecution of the traffic offender. The legal issues surrounding the use of photographic law enforcement devices in the United States are multifaceted and complex. The following analysis will begin by focusing on the significant evidentiary concerns likely to be encountered in seeking admission of evidence produced by these devices. The study will examine the following: (1) the admissibility of photographic traffic evidence, (2) the existing state laws or ordinances permitting photographic enforcement devices, (3) the specific statutory or regulatory revisions that will be necessary in those states currently without enabling mechanism, (4) the states that prohibit photographic enforcement, and (5) the responses to the constitutional and legal challenges that are likely for those states seeking to implement a photographic traffic enforcement program.

Summary: Practical Strategies

Improving safety on highways, at highway-railroad grade crossings, and at traffic signals requires a multifaceted and multiagency approach. An effective photo-radar program will incorporate aspects of enforcement, engineering, education, and research, as well as promotional and legislative initiatives. Most important, however, law enforcement officials will need an effective tool for prosecuting offenders. They must find the most effective way of using the photographic evidence.

Once a photographic enforcement program is implemented, the admissibility of such evidence will require incorporating the following elements:

An effective photographic enforcement program--whether for railroad grade crossings, red light violations, or speed--may require using available federal funds at the state level.

Jurisdictions considering drafting legislation to implement photo-radar enforcement of traffic laws should find the compilation of state laws and the model provision in the appendices of this report useful.

Model Law

This example is provided as a research service. It does not purport to furnish legal advice or assistance. Each enacting state must be careful to assure that any law drafted is consistent with the rules, regulations, and laws of the state. Legal decisions on specific issues may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This outline provides a general synopsis of a photo traffic law.

A.     Definitions

xx "Photo traffic enforcement device [describe specific device where appropriate]" means a device used primarily for [highway speed limit enforcement] [railroad crossing violations] [toll booth violations] [traffic control device violations, etc.] substantially consisting of [describe instrument. e.g. for speed a low Doppler radar unit and camera mounted in or on a vehicle], which automatically produces a photograph of a vehicle traveling in excess of the legal speed limit, with the vehicle's speed, the date, time of day, and location of the violation printed on the photograph.

B.     Any restrictive use should be included within the draft

xx "Photo traffic enforcement device [describe specific device where appropriate]" may not be used except:
        (a) (I) in school zones; or
(ii) railroad crossings, etc.
        (b) when a police officer is present with the . . . photographic traffic enforcement unit [if required within your state]; (Many states do not require the officer to be present.)
        (c) when signs are posted on the highway providing notice to a motorist that [phototraffic enforcement device] maybe used; and
        (d) when the use of [phototraffic enforcement device] by a local authority is approved by the local authority's governing body and certifying authority.
        (e) etc.

B.     Description of photographic evidence

xx Photographs by a photo traffic enforcement device must be of the vehicle's registration plate or license plate and of the driver of the vehicle and must be of sufficient quality to identify the driver of the vehicle.

C.     Prima facie evidence of speed

Such photographs shall be accepted as prima facie evidence of the [the violation] in any court of legal proceeding under this section where the speed of the motor vehicle is at issue provided that the police officer or authorized representative of any other state agency or contractor designated by the State who activated the equipment shall testify as to the placement of the camera and the accuracy of the scene depicted.

D.     Rebuttable presumption that registered owner is driver

xx In the prosecution of [a railroad crossing violation, an offense exceeding the posted speed limit, or of reckless driving or related traffic violation], proof that the vehicle described in the [summons/notice] was [describe violation, e.g. rail road crossing violation contrary to UVC Sec. 11-1701, 1702, and 1703 operated in excess of the posted speed limit], together with proof that the defendant was at the time of such violation the registered owner of the vehicle, shall constitute in evidence a rebuttable presumption that such registered owner of the vehicle was the person who committed the violation. Such rebuttable presumption shall not arise when the registered owner of the vehicle is a rental or leasing company.

F.     Provisions for summons by mail

Whenever a [summons/notice] for operating a vehicle in excess of the posted speed limit, or for (specific traffic violation), is served in any county, city, or town, it may be executed by mailing by first-class mail a copy thereof to the address of the owner of the vehicle as shown on the records of the Department. If [summoned/notified] person fails to appear on the date of the return set out in the [summons/notice] mailed pursuant to this section, the [summons/notice] shall be executed in the manner set out in (appropriate section) of the state law. No proceedings for contempt or arrest of a person [summoned/notified] by mailing shall be instituted for his failing to appear on the return date of the [summons/notice].

G.     Penalty provisions

[Specific penalty or fine provisions may be included in this section.]

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