Running a red light in Kansas City, Missouri is now treated as if the owner of the vehicle parked illegally in the middle of an intersection under city code changes unanimously adopted Thursday. That makes it a crime to own a vehicle that is “located” within an intersection after the light turns red. Officials embraced this legal contortions to avoid having to offer full due process rights to motorists, since Missouri is one of the few states in the nation where red light light cameras are in use without the approval of the state legislature. State law requires the assessment of points on a driver convicted of any moving violation, so the new ordinance turns the moving violation of red light running into a parking violation so that the city does not have to prove who was driving.
“The violation is not driving into the intersection but owning a vehicle that is found in the intersection while the light is emitting a steady red light,” city staff explained in a memo.
Under the previous red light camera ordinance, it was presumed the owner of the vehicle was likely to be its owner, placing the burden on the owner to prove otherwise. Under the new language, it does not matter.
“So you don’t have to go into the situation of, ‘Well, were you the driver? Oh no, somebody else was the driver.’” Councilman John A. Sharp explained Thursday.
The language is borrowed from the city of Creve Coeur which was ruled lawful last year by an appeals court judge with close family ties to the automated ticketing industry (view decision). Sharp argued this was the primary reason for changing the language.
“The city of Creve Coeur has treated them exactly like a parking violation and their ordinance was approved by the Missouri Court of Appeals,” Sharp said. “So this ordinance would mirror the Creve Coeur ordinance.”
In June, however, a lower court judge specifically signed off on the earlier version of Kansas City’s red light camera ordinance (view ruling). The new version will raise the potential for collecting a significant amount of new revenue by issuing tickets to people regardless of whether they are responsible in any way for the alleged violation.
“The important change is that under our ordinance were were not able to really enforce it for company-owned or corporate-owned vehicles,” Sharp admitted. “And those instances where a company-owned or corporate-owned vehicle and we had a photo of it showing they did it showing the license plate, those citations just weren’t issued.”