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State trumps local red-light camera ordinances

January 1, 2008
Cities and towns that want to use red-light cameras to catch traffic violators can't adopt an ordinance to implement the cameras because current laws allow only the state to regulate moving traffic violations, Attorney General Steve Carter said.

Carter issued an official opinion Friday regarding whether a municipality can adopt an ordinance to use red-light cameras to determine whether a driver has violated traffic laws. Carter issued the opinion in response to an inquiry from Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary. The city of Hammond installed cameras at certain city intersections as part of a plan to generate revenue by catching drivers who run red lights.

State law preempts a local law that attempts to further regulate automotive moving violations, and the General Assembly has to pass legislation before a red-light camera program could be implemented by a city or town, Carter wrote in the opinion. The General Assembly has granted local units of government "all the powers they need for the effective operation of government as to local affairs" in Indiana's home-rule law, but "if a city attempts to impose regulations in conflict with rights granted or reserved by the Legislature, such ordinances are invalid," Carter wrote, citing City of Indianapolis v. Fields, 506 N.E.2d 1128, 1131 (Ind. App. 1987), and City of Hammond, Lake County v. N.I.D. Corp., 435 N.E.2d 42, 48 (Ind. App. 1982).

"It is our opinion the General Assembly must enact enabling legislation before a red light camera enforcement program may be implemented by a local government entity," he wrote.

Bills have been introduced allowing cities, towns, and counties the legal ability to implement red-light cameras, but none of the bills passed the General Assembly.
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