How to fight the City of St. Louis’ red-light scam

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I’ve never had a traffic ticket. I spoke too soon. Thanks to the City of St. Louis’ new red-light camera scam, I have one.

It’s too late for me to fight it. But since I want others to fight it, here’s what I wish I’d known the day I got the ticket.First, when you receive your ticket in the mail, get a lawyer. Immediately. The scam works like this: They get the picture of you allegedly making a traffic violation (in my case, not making a complete stop when turning right at a red light, which is perfectly legal in St. Louis County). Then they dillydally around as long as possible. A few weeks or a month after your alleged violation, you get the ticket in the mail.

And there’s the problem. A lawyer needs at least three weeks to fight one of these things, and you’ll probably get your ticket right about three weeks before the court date. If you wait a day or five to mull over your options, you’re not going to be able to fight.

And here’s why I say "alleged"–do YOU remember what YOU were doing at 8:27 AM on Saturday, August 25? Without a photograph of you at the wheel (which St. Louis doesn’t have), they can’t prove it was you. And by waiting a few weeks after the alleged infraction, you may very well not remember if you were driving in that area on that day, or if you loaned your car to someone, or whatever.

In my case, the infraction happened in an area I rarely go. I can’t prove it wasn’t me behind the wheel, but I also can’t prove it wasn’t Francis Slay either.

That’s the reason St. Louis treats it as a non-moving violation. If it were a moving violation with points assessed, every attorney would fight it by saying the city can’t prove who was driving. And the attorney would win every single time.

In the meantime, if you don’t want to get nailed by cities changing right-turn laws on a whim (or by the car behind you if you stop at a yellow light instead of blowing through it for fear of a ticket), there’s a company that sells a $30 high-gloss clearcoat that supposedly causes the flash on the camera to overexpose, rendering your license plate illegible. I have no idea if the product works, and frankly, $30 seems a high price to pay for the fraction of an ounce of clearcoat it would take to cover four license plates. (Although it seems reasonable next to a $100 fine for not coming to a complete stop on a right turn with no other cars present.)

If you want to try to defeat red-light cameras and you don’t mind trying something that might not work, try taking off your license plates and giving them a couple of coats of either Future Floor Polish (which is really an acrylic clearcoat, not a wax) or Krylon clear gloss. I’d probably go with Krylon Triple-Thick Crystal Clear Glaze, since it’s glossier than the standard spray. A can of Krylon will cost about $5 and give you enough to spray your license plates and all of your friends’ plates also. And if it doesn’t work, you’re only out five bucks instead of thirty.

I hope it does work though. The City of St. Louis needs to find another way to raise revenue, other than making a stupid law, enforcing it by proxy, charging an excessive fine, and then stringing it along to make it as difficult for citizens to defend their records as possible.

I’ll see you at the hardware store.

And if you just got one of these unjust tickets in the mail, contact a lawyer immediately. A lawyer will cost more than the ticket, but the city is counting on honest citizens just paying the ticket because it’s cheaper and less hassle than fighting it.

And if you’re wondering where the red-light cameras are, they’re at the intersections of Hampton and Wilson (the entrance to The Hill) and Hampton and Chippewa.

4 thoughts on “How to fight the City of St. Louis’ red-light scam

  • September 27, 2007 at 6:39 am
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    On an episode of Mythbusters they tried several different products and ideas to try to beat the cameras. None of them worked effectively, unless it also obscured the plate to the point that it was too hard to read with plain eyesight, straight on. Of course, maybe they’re a shill for the police. But I quit with the conspiracy theories years ago, and I don’t think I can reacquire the taste.

    They eventually beat it by using a rocket-powered car and going, if I remember correctly, over 200 MPH. (They had also tried various driving techniques, including trying to drive faster than the camera could record it.)

    I think for most people, the lawyer will be their best bet. At least his record will probably be better than opaquing products.

    • September 27, 2007 at 10:33 am
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      I was hoping someone would have done a test. Now that I think about it, it makes sense. I would assume a red light camera takes a dozen or two shots, and most likely at least one of them will turn out. Some impromptu experiments in my driveway lead me to believe spraying a high-gloss clearcoat on your plate would help part of the time, but it’s good to know it’s not a cure-all.

      Knowing where the red light cameras are and avoiding them seems prudent. The Hampton/Chippewa intersection is possible to avoid–use Sulphur to go north/south, and Pernod to go east-west. Hampton at Wilson can be tougher. There’s no really good north/south alternative, but Columbia or Elizabeth work for east/west.

      And getting into the habit of stopping before making a right turn helps too, but having been rear-ended at high speed in a right-turn lane about three years ago, I really don’t like that. There’s no question that requiring a full stop at all lights when making a right is a stupid law. Be sure to be watching behind you while you’re stopping.

      If you get rear-ended when stopped at a stoplight, make sure you sue the city of St. Louis in addition to the driver who stops you. They stand to make half a million a year off these cameras. If they generate enough lawsuits to make it unprofitable, the nonsense might stop.

      • September 27, 2007 at 7:05 pm
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        Dave,
        I don’t understand this. Are you saying that you are turning right on red without stopping and checking for traffic from your left?

        • October 9, 2007 at 11:06 pm
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          I turned right on red without making a complete stop. I always slow down and look to the left for oncoming traffic when making a right turn, and of course when in doubt I do stop. In this case there was no traffic (it was early in the morning on a weekend), and it’s obvious from looking at the picture that there was no danger. There was only one other car anywhere near me, and he was making a right from the opposite direction. He probably didn’t come to a complete stop either.

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