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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Wilmington responds to state ruling, says red-light cameras are still legal

The city claims that only the mounting poles for the cameras, not the devices themselves, are illegal, and says it will continue the red-light program. The National Motorists Association has called for refunds, a cease-and-desist order, and criminal charges against Wilmington.

The intersection of 17th and Dawson streets, where Wilmington resident Todd Platzer got his red-light camera ticket. Platzer is suing the engineer, Pamela Alexander, who approved the yellow light timing -- Platzer argues that Alexander is part of a 50-year problem. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
The state’s engineering board ruled last month that Wilmington’s red-light cameras were installed in violation of state law; Wilmington is claiming only the mounting poles are illegal, saying the cameras are still legal to operate. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

WILMINGTON — After being formally notified of last week’s state ruling, which found Wilmington’s red-light cameras were installed in violation of state law, the city has responded, saying it will continue to operate the traffic program.

Related: Engineering board rules Wilmington’s red-light cameras installed in violation of state law

In late November, the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCBELS) concluded several months of investigation into American Traffic Solutions, Inc. (ATS) and ruled that the company provided Wilmington with engineering plans for 13 red-light camera locations without being licensed, which is a crime in North Carolina.

NCBELS notified ATS that the company was not in compliance but, although the company broke the law, NCBELS has no enforcement authority. NCBELS Executive Director Andrew Ritter said NCBELS is one of several state boards that asked for enforcement powers, but has been rebuffed by the general assembly.

“I will say this, we have asked the general assembly, on more than one occasion, to give us some teeth, to allow us to enforce on these cases, but they have turned us down,” Ritter said.

NCBELS isn’t alone, Ritter added, pointing to a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case that squashed the North Carolina Dental Board of Examiners attempts to regulate teeth whitening businesses.

This leaves Wilmington’s red-light program in a murky area, and it’s not clear what the legal ramifications of the board’s decision will be. In theory, Ritter said, NCBELS could petition the North Carolina Department of Justice to bring charges against ATS. The NCDOJ, which does have enforcement authority, could also issue a cease-and-desist order to Wilmington’s red-light camera program.

National Motorists Association calls for cease-and-desist, criminal charges

James Walker, executive director of the National Motorists Association Foundation, called on the City of Wilmington to refund all tickets issued during the time the improper engineering plans have been in place (since 2009).

Walker has been a vocal critic of red-light cameras for years, and was part of efforts to kill legislation to legalize red-light cameras in Michigan (where they are currently illegal). He also called on the NCDOJ for an “immediate injunction or cease and desist order requiring the cameras to be turned off until new and legal plans are in place for each camera intersection.”

Lastly, Walker called for criminal charges to be filed against the city itself “for defying the laws and not have legal engineering plans before the came

Walker also pointed to civil lawsuits, like several cases in Texas, including three in the state’s Supreme Court and several in lower courts. As the Austin-American Statesman reported in late November, the cases challenge the 2007 law that made red-light cameras legal in Texas on a variety of grounds, including the Constitutional rights to a presumption of innocence and the right to confront an accuser.

Several of the lawsuits also seek to shut down the cameras in individual Texas cities for failure to comply with engineering laws, a situation similar to that which NBCELS had identified in Wilmington.

Wilmington says cameras still legal

Deputy City Attorney Meredith Everhart said Wilmington’s red-light camera program would not be interrupted by NCBELS finding.

”The state board ruling was in response to a concern that the poles the cameras are attached to were placed into the ground based on plans that did not have the required professional engineer/land surveyor seals,” Everhart said. “The decision had nothing to do with the legality or operation of the cameras themselves.”

Everhart added that red-light cameras are legal elsewhere.

“Traffic cameras of this nature have been upheld as legal by courts in North Carolina and throughout the United States, and there is nothing in the board’s decision that changes that with regard to the cameras,” Everhart said.

It’s worth noting that, as Everhart said, red-light cameras are used in 24 states, but they are also currently illegal in 10 states, and while some courts have upheld their use, other courts have ruled against them. Last year, for example, Butler County Court in Ohio ruled the town of New Miami had to pay back $3 million in red light tickets. Major cities like Chicago have also seen serious legal challenges to their red-light programs and at least seven states are considering measures to ban them.

Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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