Ninth Circuit OKs Red Light Cameras in Washington

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed a district court decision that dismissed a class action lawsuit against various Washington municipalities.   The plaintiffs, who were fined after their vehicles were photographed running red lights, sued the municipalities claiming that Washington law prohibited the amounts they were fined.

The plaintiffs argued that state law required the amount of the fine to be no more than the average or typical fine for a parking infraction.  In rejecting this argument, the court noted that the statute’s plain language is not susceptible to such an interpretation.  RCW 46.63.170(2) states “the amount of the fine issued for an infraction generated through the use of an automated traffic safety camera shall not exceed the amount of a fine issued for other parking infractions within the jurisdiction.”  The court noted that nothing in the statute prohibited a jurisdiction from imposing an amount that corresponded to the highest amount for another local parking infraction.

This case represents a big victory for the Washington municipalities that rely on such cameras to patrol busy or dangerous intersections and thoroughfares.  For better or worse, local governments increasingly rely on these cameras to enforce traffic laws as budgets continued to be squeezed and demands for public services continues to rise.