Woman Loses License Because Red-Light Camera Can’t Read

(Great Beyond)

Municipalities around the country are turning to red-light cameras as a way to bring in traffic violation revenue while freeing up police officers to do other things. Of course, these devices are far from perfect, especially in the dark. But the process of convincing authorities that it couldn’t have been your car in the photo is sometimes more of a hassle than just paying the ticket.

The New Star-Ledger’s Bamboozled column has the story of a woman whose license was suspended by authorities in New Jersey for a red-light ticket, even though the car in the photo is clearly not hers — oh, and she hadn’t even been in the Garden State in more than a year when the violation occurred.

Eighteen months before receiving the ticket, the woman had moved from NJ to Colorado for work. But when she called up the Edison Township, NJ, police to tell them that she couldn’t possibly have run a red light from thousands of miles away, the person on the other end of the call was not terribly understanding.

“I dealt with one of the most rude individuals ever,” she recalls. “She laughed at me and said that I need to pay and it’s not that much money and to stop lying to her. It ended in her actually yelling at me and hanging up on me.”

So she filled in the paperwork disputing the ticket and mailed it off before her court date. When she didn’t hear back, she assumed it was because the matter had been resolved by people who understand things like time and distance.

But then a year later, the Motor Vehicle Commission tells her that even though she now had a Colorado license, her driving privileges had been revoked nationwide for failing to appear in court, and if she wants her license back, she needs to pay $100 on top of the ticket.

So it was another called to Edison Township, which claimed it had no record of the not guilty plea. Then the township said it had received the paperwork but forgot to give it to the judge. A promise was made to tell the prosecutor about the oopsy and that everything would be cleared up.

But a week later, the fee to restore the license got jacked up to $200, with no signs of any movement on looking at the driver’s paperwork.

Then a court date was scheduled, then rescheduled without telling the driver, then rescheduled again.

All of this so far for a stupid red-light traffic ticket.

So she contacted Bamboozled, which showed the photos from the camera to experts who confirmed what even people with only a casual knowledge of cars would be able to tell — that the vehicle in the photo looks nothing like the ticketed woman’s 2008 Scion. And the image quality of the numbers on the license plate are open to interpretation.

Even so, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission says it can do nothing about restoring the woman’s driving privileges until the Edison Township authorities say it’s okay.

Bamboozled attempted to reach township officials to no avail. But then the driver’s mom received a voicemail on Sept. 20 saying the judge had found her daughter guilty, meaning she had to pay $81 plus $33 in court costs plus the $200 restoration fee.

Or maybe not, since the township apparently had the suspension lifted after it realized the original paperwork screw-up; though there is still some haziness about this.

Making matters even more cryptic, on Sept. 20, the woman received a letter postmarked Sept. 19 saying her court date had been set — for Sept. 19.

“Is this their way of making sure no one shows up? By notifying them after the fact?” asks the mother.

The township confirms to Bamboozled that the driver, who by now has amassed a pile of evidence proving her innocence, could appeal the judge’s verdict.

But considering that it costs $75 plus fees to appeal, and that she’d likely need to travel to NJ to make her case in person rather than rely on something stupid like facts, the woman has opted to just give in and pay the ticket.

“We cannot even trust our own state to do the right thing. I feel very sorry for all New Jersey and non-New Jersey drivers out there,” the woman’s mom tells Bamboozled. “Who knows how many others have received bogus tickets and were forced to pay them?”

Bamboozled: Red-light camera error leads to road of exasperation in Edison [NJ.com]