A Green Light on Red Light Cameras By Ian Wilson LL. B
A fascinating decision by the Supreme Court of South Australia has called into question the current operation of the red light cameras, that have clocked up tens of millions of dollars in fines for drivers. In principle, a landmark decision opens the flood gates of appeal for hundreds.
“Thousands of red light offences caught by traffic cameras are under a cloud, after the Supreme Court overturned a motorist’s traffic fine. The bombshell Supreme Court judgement overturned a red light running offence on the basis that the state’s camera testing regimen is invalid. The court found police must now test cameras when a private vehicle, or police test vehicle, is actually running a red light. Currently police only test if a car sets off the camera when going past on a green light, because red light testing is too dangerous and difficult. Specialist traffic lawyer Karen Stanley, acting for motorist David Woolmer, won the appeal and said up to 3000 fines currently unpaid – plus the 700 future fines each month – could now be challenged in the courts. “Until there is some change within SAPOL, or this judgment is overturned on appeal, it is hard to see how red light fines can continue to be issued and how current charges can continue to be prosecuted,’’ Ms Stanley said. Supreme Court Justice Greg Parker upheld an appeal against a Magistrate’s Court finding that in March 2018 David Woolmer’s white Holden sedan had been caught by a camera in the intersection of Magill Road and Portrush Road, Beulah Park, when a red traffic arrow was showing. The Supreme Court found a test carried out in February on that fixed camera only established that the camera was photographing cars travelling through the intersection after passing an electronic switch during green lights – not red. In other words, the testers did not sit and wait for a vehicle to go through a red light and break the law — or run their own test car through on a red light — as part of the test. The bombshell finding is likely to change regulations to insist that police run a test to witness a car breaking road rules – which would be costly and difficult and time consuming.”
In the case, counsel for the appellant alleged that while there were indeed two photographs showing him running a red light, without a valid accuracy test, it was not known if he in fact entered the intersection before the red light showed. According to the justice: “Because Mr Dellow (the tester of the fixed camera) did not observe any vehicles go through the red light, it was not possible for him to be satisfied that certain things occurred ‘after the traffic lights commence showing a red traffic light’ as required by regulation.” The South Australian Magistrates Court had held that conducting such tests was too dangerous, so no valid certificate was issued. Police will thus need to conduct tests on all the red light cameras.
I do not rejoice about this, since so many accidents have been caused by people speeding through intersections, but the case is interesting, showing that some fundamental things are taken for granted until finally challenged.