Red Light Cameras Raise Legal Concerns

Montgomery, Al. (WSFA) -- Montgomery's new red light cameras are raising some legal eyebrows. Some people familiar with state law wonder if the tickets that will be issued are legal.

Montgomery is the first city in the state to install the cameras, which take photographs of cars that run red lights. Then the owners will get citations in the mail. But Alabama law says a police officer must observe a crime before a ticket can be issued.

"I think the city is overstepping its bounds," said motorist Ralph McCall. "I think they're looking more for revenue than people running red lights."

Mayor Bobby Bright says it's not about money, but saving lives. He says the city has asked the state legislature repeatedly to pass the appropriate legislation.

"We can't get a law making it a criminal offense, so we're going to make it a civil violation," he explained.

The mayor says for civil violations, the city CAN issue tickets even if they're not witnessed by police.

"There is no law saying we can't do this," Bright said.

To be on the safe side, the city does not initially plan to use the money it collects in case there is a legal challenge. That way, it could offer drivers refunds.

Most drivers who spoke to WSFA 12 News said they support the red light camera initiative. They say there are too many people putting others in danger by running red lights.

But McCall said he may think twice before paying a ticket issued by a camera.

"I just don't think until everything is cleared up legally, anybody is obligated to pay a ticket," McCall said.

The mayor says it could take a year or longer before the legal issue is settled. In the meantime, he says motorists who receive tickets will be required to pay them beginning May first.

Twenty-eight other states already use similar cameras. Most report a reduced number of crashes at intersections.

A list of the Montgomery intersections that will include cameras can be found elsewhere on this page.

Reporter: Mark Bullock