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New York Sued Over Traffic-Light Camera Tickets, Fines

Three men who were ticketed by New York’s red-light traffic cameras sued the city, claiming the system’s yellow signals are shorter in duration than the law allows.

Traffic lights changing to red display yellow for a shorter time than the federal minimum of three seconds and the city has installed 168 more cameras than state law permits, according to the complaint filed today in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

The city “must therefore refund the fines they illegally collected without proper cause since the inception of the red-light camera program in 1998,” according to the complaint, in which the three men seek to sue on behalf of other motorists nabbed by the cameras.

The state passed legislation in April 1998 allowing the city to implement the program and install red-light cameras at 50 locations, according to the complaint. Other bills were passed in June 2006 and April 2009 allowing 100 additional cameras while the city operates a total of 318 cameras, the men allege.

The plaintiffs are seeking an order halting the program until it conforms with state and federal laws and a refund of “illegitimately issued citations and improper fines.”

In an e-mail, Kate O’Brien Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the city’s law department, declined to immediately comment on the lawsuit. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Running Lights

The city Department of Transportation’s cameras automatically take high-resolution pictures of vehicles that run red lights, including close-ups of license plates, and issue summonses to the owners, according to the complaint. The program has generated about $235 million in revenue since 2007, including $47.2 million in 2011, the plaintiffs claim.

The AAA, a nonprofit group for drivers, recently found some intersections where yellow lights operated for less than three seconds, according to the complaint. AAA’s New York chapter looked at about a half-dozen individual intersections in response to member complaints and found that the lights were “generally short,” spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. said in a telephone interview.

Three Seconds

Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the transportation department, said the city’s traffic signals are all timed to provide a yellow light for a minimum of three seconds and the cameras take pictures 0.3 seconds after the light has turned red. Some of the intersections identified in media reports didn’t even have red light cameras or had only inactive cameras.

“This claim wasn’t true then and we’ve seen no evidence that it’s true now,” Solomonow said in an e-mail. “In October we inspected signals at red-light camera locations and confirmed that they were all properly timed and some did not even have cameras.”

The AAA believes the duration of yellow lights should be based on characteristics of individual intersections such as the prevailing speed of traffic rather than just the speed limit, Sinclair said.

“We do still have our problems with New York City’s red-light camera program but we haven’t done anything that could be considered a study,” Sinclair said. “It’s certainly nothing to be the subject of a lawsuit.”

The case is Luceno v. City of New York, 654239/2012, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

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