Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Speed Cameras in New York State: Coming Soon?

New Update (January 2010): Speed cameras are back in the Governor's proposed 2010 budget.
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Update: It appears that the speed cameras were left out of the final budget. Maybe next year.
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New York State is hungry for money. Speed cameras are coming. The full text of the proposed new law is at the bottom. Here are some details:

a. A new statute would be created, § 1181-a of the Vehicle and Traffic Law. This law holds vehicle owners liable for speeding - even if they're not driving the car.

b. The law would authorize the State Police to place up to 60 speed cameras ("photo-monitoring systems") in work zones and "designated stretches of highway". I'm not sure how the stretches of highway are to be designated. Subsection 1. Might be a defense that the relevant highway was not "designated". Don't count on the process being fair here, by the way.

c. They are supposed to place signs 300 yards in advance to warn people that the device is there. Also subsection 1. Thus you may have a defense that there was no warning sign.

d. The fine, per subsection 5, is $50 for regular speeds, and $100 for speeding in a work zone. There's an interesting potential gap here. The $50 is for § 1180(d) and the $100 is for § 1180(f). There's no mention of § 1180(b), which is the usual charge for 55 mph zones. 55 mph is the default speed limit in NY, so if you get a speed camera ticket in a place where there's no speed limit sign posted, you might be able to argue that there is no appropriate fine.

Another interesting point is that the fine is not variable. If you are going 1 mph over the limit or 60 mph over the limit, it's the same fine.

e. Speed camera tickets will not go on your driving record and cannot be held against you by insurance companies. Subsection 6.

f. The proposal also contains a complicated process for how the ticket will be handled. Basically, the State sends you a notice and if you don't respond, you're guilty. If you do want to fight it, it will take you enough effort and you'll almost always lose, so most people will just find it easier to send in the $50. This is going to be a nightmare for rental car companies (subsection 10).

It's unclear how this will apply to vehicles from other states and/or countries. Will DCJS (the agency handling the ticket) be able to find out who the owner is? For other states this might not be too hard, but for Canada and Mexico it might be a bigger problem.

Another big question is what happens if you don't pay? Nothing I've seen so far says they can suspend your license for not paying (as is common for regular speeding tickets). Do those suspension rules apply here? Can you be arrested for not paying? Do they enter a judgment against you in the County Clerk's office?

The real idea here is obvious to me. The speed camera law is designed so that people will not fight their tickets and will just pay the fines. They're hoping the system will be cheap to run and will generate lots of revenue. For example, there'd be no overtime for police coming to Court.

My suggestion is that everyone should at least challenge submit the written challenge (subsection 8), so that they have to hire as many "liability review examiners" as possible and work them to death.

Figure 60 speed cameras writing an average of 6 tickets an hour (one every ten minutes). Hmm. 360 tickets an hour. 8640 tickets a day. About 3 million a year. $50 a pop works out to an extra $150 million a year in revenue. If they can up it to 10 an hour, that's $260 million. If they go nuts and write 60 tickets an hour (one ticket every minute), that'd be well over $1 billion a year. Then, of course, in a couple years they'll up the fines to $100 for regular and $200 for work zones. Now we're talking real money.

Makes me think of the Bastille, and/or the Boston Tea Party. But will the peasants ever rise up against the Leviathan? Now I'm mixing way too many metaphors.

Credit to our senior associate, David Cooper, for uncovering this proposed law.

The text of the proposed § 1181-a, designated S.56/A.156 (Senate bill number 56, Assembly bill number 156) is below:

S. 56/A. 156

PART S P.42-46

§ 3. The vehicle and traffic law is amended by adding a new section

1181-a to read as follows:

§ 1181-a. Owner liability for operation in excess of certain posted speed limits.

1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, and in accordance with this section, rules and regulations may be promulgated by the division of state police, the division of criminal justice services, and any agency, division or authority so designated by the division of state police, to establish a photo-monitoring program and to impose monetary liability on the owner of a vehicle that is operated in excess of a maximum speed limit in violation of paragraph two of subdivision (d) or subdivision (f) of section eleven hundred eighty of this article for failing to obey posted speed limits in work zones and designated stretches of highway. The superintendent of state police shall determine the locations in which the photo-monitoring program shall be established in consultation with the commissioner of the department of transportation. No more than sixty operating photo-monitoring systems shall be in place at any given time. Signs alerting motorists to the presence of photo-monitoring devices shall be placed approximately three hundred yards in advance of the location of such device.

2. The owner of a vehicle shall be liable for a civil penalty imposed pursuant to this section if such vehicle was used or operated by the owner or was used or operated with the permission of the owner, express or implied, and operated in excess of a maximum speed limit in violation of paragraph two of subdivision (d) or subdivision (f) of section eleven hundred eighty of this article and such violation is evidenced by information obtained from a photo-monitoring system, provided, however, that no owner of a vehicle shall be liable for a penalty imposed pursuant to this section where the operator of such vehicle has been charged with a violation of section eleven hundred eighty of this article for the same incident.

3. For purposes of this section, the term "owner" shall mean any person, corporation, partnership, firm, agency, association, lessor or organization who, at the time of the violation and with respect to the vehicle identified in the notice of liability:
(a) is the beneficial or equitable owner of such vehicle; or
(b) has title to such vehicle; or
(c) is the registrant or co-registrant of such vehicle which is registered with the department of motor vehicles of this state or any other state, territory, district, province, nation or other jurisdiction; or
(d) subject to the limitations set forth in subdivision ten of this section, uses such vehicle in its vehicle renting and/or leasing business; and includes (e) a person entitled to the use and possession of a vehicle subject to a security interest in another person. For purposes of this section, the term "photo-monitoring system" shall mean a vehicle speed sensor that automatically produces one or more photographs, one or more microphotographs, a videotape or other recorded images of vehicles traveling at the location of such device. For purposes of this section, the term "vehicle" shall mean every device in, upon or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway.

4. A certificate, sworn to or affirmed by an agent of the division, agency or authority which charged that the violation occurred, or a facsimile thereof, based upon inspection of photographs, microphotographs, videotape or other recorded images produced by a photo-monitoring system shall be prima facie evidence of the facts contained therein and shall be admissible into evidence in any review of the liability for such violation.

5. An owner found liable for a violation of paragraph two of subdivision (d) of section eleven hundred eighty of this article pursuant to this section shall be liable for a monetary penalty of fifty dollars. An owner found liable for a violation of subdivision (f) of section eleven hundred eighty of this article pursuant to this section shall be liable for a monetary penalty of one hundred dollars.

6. An imposition of liability pursuant to this section shall be based upon a preponderance of evidence as submitted. An imposition of liability pursuant to this section shall not be deemed a conviction as an operator and shall not be made part of the motor vehicle operating record, furnished pursuant to section three hundred fifty-four of this chapter, of the person upon whom such liability is imposed nor shall it be used for insurance purposes in the provision of motor vehicle insurance coverage.

7.
(a) A notice of liability shall be sent by first class mail to each person alleged to be liable, pursuant to this section, as an owner for a violation of paragraph two of subdivision (d) or subdivision (f) of section eleven hundred eighty of this article. Such notice shall be mailed no later than forty-five days after the alleged violation except as provided in subdivision ten of this section. Personal delivery on the owner shall not be required. A manual or automatic record of mailing prepared in the ordinary course of business shall be prima facie evidence of the mailing of the notice.

(b) A notice of liability shall contain the name and address of the person alleged to be liable as an owner for a violation of paragraph two of subdivision (d) or subdivision (f) of section eleven hundred eighty of this article, the registration number of the vehicle involved in such violation, the location where such violation took place, the date and time of such violation, the identification number of the photo-monitoring system that recorded the violation or other document locator number.

(c) The notice of liability shall also contain information advising the person charged of the manner and time in which such person may request a copy of the photographs, microphotographs, videotape or other recorded images produced by a photo-monitoring system and the certificate that charged that the violation occurred. Such request shall be submitted within forty-five days of mailing of the notice of liability.

(d) The notice of liability shall contain information advising the person charged of the manner and the time in which such person may challenge the liability alleged in the notice. Such notice of liability shall also contain a warning to advise the person charged that failure to answer or challenge in the manner and time provided shall be deemed an admission of liability and that a default judgment may be entered as a final decision of liability thereon.

(e) Failure to answer a notice of liability within forty-five days of mailing of the notice shall result in the entry of a default judgment and the immediate conversion of the notice of liability into a final decision of liability against the owner.

8. Review of a challenge to the liability imposed upon owners by this section shall be conducted by a liability review examiner. Liability review examiners shall be appointed by the commissioner of the division of criminal justice services and shall be employees of the division of criminal justice services. The commissioner of the division of criminal justice services may appoint as many liability review examiners as are needed for review of challenges to liability pursuant to this section, within amounts appropriated therefor. Written challenges to liability shall be submitted to the division of criminal justice services by owners within forty-five days of mailing of the notice of liability or within forty-five days of mailing of the photographs, microphotographs, videotape or other recorded images and the certificate, whichever is later. The commissioner of the division of criminal justice services shall promulgate rules and regulations governing the review of challenges to liability imposed upon owners pursuant to this section which shall, at a minimum, require a liability review examiner to inspect the photographs, microphotographs, videotape or other recorded images produced by a photo-monitoring system and the certificate, or any other written information the examiner deems relevant, review the owner's written challenge to liability and the accuracy of the information alleged in the notice of liability, and issue a final decision of liability within thirty days of receipt of the challenge.

9. If an owner receives a notice of liability pursuant to this section for any time period during which the vehicle was reported to the police department as having been stolen, it shall be a valid defense to an allegation of liability for a violation of paragraph two of subdivision (d) or subdivision (f) of section eleven hundred eighty of this article that prior to the time of the violation, the vehicle had been reported to the police as stolen, and that it had not been recovered by such time. For purposes of asserting the defense provided by this subdivision it shall be sufficient that a certified copy of the police report on the stolen vehicle be sent by first class mail to the division having jurisdiction.

10. An owner who is a lessor of a vehicle to which a notice of liability was issued pursuant to subdivision seven of this section shall not be liable for the violation of paragraph two of subdivision (d) of subdivision (f) of section eleven hundred eighty of this article provided that he or she sends to the division serving the notice of liability a copy of the rental, lease or other such contract document covering such vehicle on the date of the violation, with the name and address of the lessee clearly legible, within thirty days after receiving the original notice of liability. Failure to send such information within such thirty day time period shall render the lessor liable for the penalty prescribed by this section. Where the lessor complies with the provisions of this subdivision, the lessee of such vehicle on the date of such violation shall be deemed to be the owner of such vehicle for purposes of this section and shall be subject to liability for the violation of paragraph two of subdivision (d) or subdivision (f) of section eleven hundred eighty of this article, provided that the division mails a notice of liability to the lessee within thirty days after receiving such notice from the lessor. For purposes of this subdivision the term "lessor" shall mean any person, corporation, firm, partnership, agency, association or organization engaged in the business of renting or leasing vehicles to any lessee under a rental agreement, lease or otherwise wherein the said lessee has the use of said vehicle for any period of time. For purposes of this subdivision, the term "lessee" shall mean any person, corporation, firm, partnership, agency, association or organization that rents, leases or contracts for the use of one or more vehicles and has use thereof for any period of time.

11. Except as provided in subdivision ten of this section, if a person receives a notice of liability pursuant to this section it shall be a valid defense to an allegation of liability for a violation of paragraph two of subdivision (d) or subdivision (f) of section eleven hundred eighty of this article that the individual who received the notice of liability pursuant to this section was not an owner of the vehicle at the time the violation occurred. If the owner liable for a violation of paragraph two of subdivision (d) or subdivision (f) of section eleven hundred eighty of this article pursuant to this section was not the operator of the vehicle at the time of the violation, the owner may maintain an action for indemnification against the operator.

12. Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the liability of an operator of a vehicle for any violation of any provision of law.

13. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, all photographs, microphotographs, videotape or other recorded images prepared pursuant to this section shall be for the use of governmental agencies or authorities in the discharge of their duties and shall not be made available to the public except as expressly provided for in this section.

§ 4. This act shall take effect immediately.
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