By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI (Reuters) - As courts across the United States struggle to determine the legality of red-light cameras, drivers are slipping through a patchwork of often conflicting laws to avoid millions in fines.
Two south Florida judges dismissed 24,000 red-light tickets worth an estimated $6.3 million earlier this week over concerns Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions Inc (ATS), which provides the cameras, was too involved in the outcome of cases.
By Florida law "the police have certain powers they cannot delegate to private vendors," said Ted Hollander, who represented the Florida drivers. "What we found in testimony is that (the company) had discretion and employees were dismissing cases."
In late 2014 a class action in Missouri over similar issues with ATS was settled with more than 100,000 Kansas City-area drivers eligible for part of a $16 million settlement.
Earlier that year New Jersey was forced to dismiss 17,000 tickets after ATS failed to mail them within a 90-day cutoff period.
ATS spokesman Charles Territo said the recent problems were nothing new to the company, and that previous attempts "to undermine the technology" had failed.
ATS, in which Goldman Sachs Group is a minority shareholder, and Australia-based Redflex Holdings are among the nation’s largest providers of red-light camera systems.
ATS helps municipalities issue about 4 million citations annually through 2,500 red-light cameras in 275 communities in more than 20 states, Territo said. The income generated has in some instances become an important revenue stream for municipalities’ budgets.
However the number of communities across the United States with red-light cameras has fallen nearly 13 percent from its high in 2012 to 470 in 2014, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The cameras are facing challenges by new laws as well as activists, creating more loopholes that put the tickets issued in limbo.
The city of Akron, Ohio, sued the state government last month over a new law that would require an officer to be present for every ticket issued by red-light cameras. The law, set to go into effect later this month, would mean a near ban on the cameras and put the cities using them in conflict with state laws.
"The issues with the red-light cameras have more to do with fairness and due process," said Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union, "but there are questions about whether they’re placed for public safety or to maximize revenues."
(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by David Adams and Eric Beech)