I fought the lawWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
On Oct. 28, a City of Toledo photo enforcement program camera clocked me driving 62 mph on the Anthony Wayne Trail. The posted speed limit on the Trail is 50 mph.
I knew the exact moment the camera flashed; as I was approaching a green light, a large Salvation Army truck rumbled up beside me and passed me. I admit I was traveling faster than 50 mph, but it seemed reasonable to me that the camera had been triggered by the truck, which beat me to the next traffic light by several lengths.
The “notice of liability” I received in the mail was accompanied by three sequential photos, two of which showed the truck passing me.
Now, if you catch me, you catch me, and I’ll pay up. In my 26 years of driving a car, I’ve received one speeding ticket that I remember. Let’s say I’m wrong and double that; a hypothetical two violations in 26 years isn’t perfect, but it’s not a habit or pattern, either.
I hate the idea of electronic eyes watching like unblinking sentinels, and because the camera showed the truck passing me, I had a legitimate question.
My appeal was Jan. 22, in the city council chambers in One Government Center. As I signed in, the security guard recognized me from the paper and wished me good luck with my appeal. He did not say so, but I received the impression he has not witnessed many people leaving the hearings with their arms raised in victory.
The hearings are now public, thanks to the legal efforts of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST). At the hearing was a police officer referred to as “Sergeant,” a clerk keeping track of the hearings and a hearing examiner.
The man in front of me was making the case that his car slid through an intersection on icy roads that had not been plowed or salted, setting off the photo enforcement camera. The hearing examiner said, “Let’s watch the video,” which surprised me. I did not know the cameras were taking and storing video. I thought the video would help me make my case when my turn came, but the astute headline reader has probably figured out how my story ends.
The officer, clerk, examiner and driver watched the video, and the examiner, said, “Yes, you were clearly trying to stop.”
The officer then said, “The city will maintain you were driving too fast for the conditions.”
And that was that. End of appeal.
The hearing panel was civil and professional as I asked about the camera’s ability to distinguish my vehicle from the truck passing me. The officer and examiner were tremendously confident that the cameras made the distinction, but the hearing examiner invited me up to watch the video, to determine if I was keeping pace with the even faster truck.
The video, shown in one medium-size box on a laptop computer, lasted about three seconds. First, there are no cars in the frame. Then, two vehicles pass through the scene. Three seconds of actual time tracking the vehicles might be generous. The examiner watched the video, then said, “You were clearly keeping pace.”
“Was I?” I asked. “I’m not sure you can tell anything from that.”
The clerk laughed and made a light-hearted joke that I was maintaining the footage “doesn’t go that deep.”
She made the joke twice, actually.
“How can you tell anything from that? I asked.
The examiner adjusted his smudged glasses and said, “I have a lot of experience squinting at these videos. This hearing sides with the city. The sergeant will tell you how to pay your fine.”
And that was that. End of appeal.
Then, the examiner casually said “The cameras are set to go off at 12 mph over the speed limit. If you had been going 1 mph slower, you wouldn’t have set it off.”
So, I am to believe the camera can distinguish 1 mph between two vehicles four feet apart at 60 mph. No calibration issues, no technology issues, no margin for error?
Chris Finney, a board member of COAST, told me that my experience was typical.
“It’s not about due process, it’s about generating revenue for the city,” he said. “It’s not about safety; it’s about forfeiting 400 years of civil rights law for $120.”
I checked with Maj. William Greenaway of the local Salvation Army, and he said one of their drivers did receive a ticket and pay the fine for the Oct. 28 “violation.”
I have not yet paid my fine. Finney urged me not to, saying, “You don’t have to pay these tickets. It’s a fraudulent scam. They do not have any judgment against you, no judge has ruled against you. They would have to take you to court and prove their case all over again, and there is no record they have done or are willing to do that.
“They have no authority to get liens on you, touch your bank account, impact your license tags, garnish your wages or in any other way enforce the fine. It’s a kangaroo court, and I hope you don’t pay it.”
I have a few weeks to think about it.
As I left the hearing, I waved at the security guard, shaking my head that the results did not go my way. He did not seem surprised.
He’s seen it before, many times.
Learn more about the efforts to dismantle the red light camera “photo enforcement program” at
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com.