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Lights, cameras, class action

As in comedy, timing is everything in the world of traffic violations.

As in comedy, timing is everything in the world of traffic violations. The difference between running a yellow light and getting tagged for a red light violation could be as small as a split second.

Traffic cameras perched atop traffic lights were purported to be an accurate alternative to a cop on the beat. But a judge this month ordered Los Angeles County to refund about $500,000 in traffic fines after county officials (responding to an activist's complaint) discovered a camera that snapped shots three seconds after the light turned yellow-a half-second too soon.

Another California judge dismissed 290 San Diego tickets in 2001, while Washington, D.C., faces a class-action suit over its traffic cameras. The suit claims the system violates vehicle owners' right of due process by holding them responsible for traffic violations instead of the driver. The plaintiffs' attorneys estimated the class could represent more than 100,000 people.

Chris Stamper

Chris Stamper