News Story

Michigan Moves to Ban Red Light Ticket Cameras

Move would push back against growing national movement

While the debate over road funding has been a prominent story in news outlets lately, few people have noticed that cameras on highways and at traffic lights could be a way for governments to take in more money from motorists. While governments may financially benefit from the cameras, the companies that lease them to governments lobby heavily for their use.

But now a bill in the Michigan Legislature seeks to clarify the state's position on traffic cameras.

Senate Bill 593, introduced by State Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, bans the use of unmanned traffic monitoring devices to detect or enforce violations related to speed limits, traffic signs, signals, markings and high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

“I think sometime next year we might just want to officially put a fork in those options and move on. The recent scandals that took place in other states show the true nature of some of these programs, and Michigan drivers have always, thankfully, valued freedom and we've avoided the added stress that cameras and their inaccurate ticketing can present,” said Shirkey.

So far, efforts in Michigan to use cameras for traffic-law enforcement have been stymied. In 2007, then-Attorney General Michael Cox declared that most tickets from cameras would be invalid. He said that railroad crossings are the only places where tickets-by-camera are allowed under state law.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 12 states have a speed-enforcement camera in at least one location, while 24 states have at least one operating red-light camera. There have recently been discussions in a congressional committee to deploy cameras in schools zones under a federal highway program.

The only thing stopping the use of cameras (beyond railroad crossings) in Michigan is the attorney general’s opinion, but efforts to install them persist.

In addition to codifying the past opinions from the attorney general's office on traffic cameras, Shirkey's bill prohibits the Michigan secretary of state from adding points to a driver's license based on violations caught on cameras in other states.

The secretary of state's office cannot say how many points have been issued over the years from violations attributed to out-of-state traffic cameras. States share information on moving violations through the National Driver Register as well as the Commercial Driver’s License Information Service. Michigan law requires out-of-state violations to be recorded on license records using Michigan’s point system.

“We don’t normally know the details of a ticket, only that the person received the ticket. If someone gets a ticket for running a red light, we would record the violation on the person’s driving record regardless of whether the ticket came from a camera or a police officer sitting in a squad car,” said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Michigan secretary of state.

Under the bill, it is conceivable that an out-of-state ticket would not generate points if the motorist could present evidence that it was generated by a traffic camera.

Points can be costly to motorists since insurance companies often impose surcharges for up to three years after they are levied. In some instances, though, drivers can avoid having points added to their licenses if they take a state-approved safety class. The price of a class varies by sponsor, but can reach a maximum of $100. In the 2013-14 fiscal year, the secretary of state offered the opportunity to 272,070 motorists, and 72,507 completed a course.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.