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Minneapolis, Mendota Heights authorized to use traffic cameras in a bill headed to Gov. Tim Walz's desk

Minnesota Legislature gives green light for Minneapolis to test traffic enforcement cameras
Minnesota Legislature gives green light for Minneapolis to test traffic enforcement cameras 01:50

MINNEAPOLIS — Go too fast behind the wheel in Minneapolis in the next few years and drivers may get a speeding ticket not from a cop, but a camera. The state legislature on the final day of session this year greenlit a pilot project for the city to test if they improve safety. 

Minneapolis and Mendota Heights could start a four-year pilot project as early as next summer, implementing the cameras in high-risk areas or within 2,000 feet of a school to catch drivers speeding or running red lights. 

The plan, which was included in the 1,400-page omnibus bill that passed just before the chaotic end to session, also authorizes the Minnesota Department of Transportation to use the cameras in highway work zones. The move comes nearly two decades after the Minneapolis City Council approved the so-called "photo cop" ordinance that the Minnesota Supreme Court struck down because it violated state law.

The proposal, which awaits Gov. Tim Walz's signature, would allow the use of cameras on a trial basis and includes guardrails around their use, like how many are allowed, how the revenues from ticket fines can be used and how people can contest a violation. 

In Minneapolis, Ethan Fawley who leads a team trying to cut down on serious traffic injuries and deaths said that the city would start small with 10 or fewer cameras and vows to consult residents before the program launches. There'd be a 30-day period where drivers would only get warnings. 

Then each first offense would be a warning before they'd get a $40 ticket — the fine for both running a red light and speeding. That doubles to $80 if someone is going 20 miles or more over the speed limit. 

"It's really important that we change the behavior but we're not overly punitive," said Fawley, program coordinator for Vision Zero Minneapolis. "What we see from other cities is a $40 ticket can be effective at changing behavior because do you really want to get a $40 ticket every time you drive by that location? The answer for almost everyone is no."

Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy said during a February committee hearing on the bill that the city purchased a speed camera system to only write warnings to motorists and used the information gathered to make better decisions about where to deploy officers. 

"Our citizens have been very, very supportive of it," McCarthy said.

The ACLU of Minnesota, which challenged the initial Minneapolis ordinance in 2005, had raised due process and privacy concerns about cameras being used in this way. The law sets out data privacy rules and is clear that a person who owns the car — for whom the ticket would automatically be issued — is not subject to the fine or conviction if they provide a sworn statement attesting that they were not driving at that time.

There are also protections if someone's car is stolen and is caught on camera, or if the driver is taking someone to the hospital because of a medical emergency.

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