Joe Kukura

Anyone who's been ticketed by an automated red-light camera would be interested to know that the largest traffic camera company in the United States has possibly doctored photos of the cars they ticket. According to evidence laid out on a drivers' rights blog, the firm American Traffic Solutions has used altered photographs to ticket drivers for running red lights in Maryland and Washington, D.C. These photo manipulations make it more difficult for the drivers to challenge rulings -- and easier for cities to spoil themselves with mountains of additional revenue.

This might sound like a local D.C.-area problem. But the traffic camera company in question, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), is the largest road safety camera company in the US. They run cameras in 300 US municipalities in 21 different states and the District of Columbia. If ATS is doctoring ticketed driver photos in one town, they may be doctoring photos in all their markets.

A driving blog called details two cases where ATS has used doctored photos to issue red-light tickets. "The firms operating red-light cameras and speed cameras in the District of Columbia and Maryland are working to suppress evidence that could be used to prove the innocence of a photo enforcement ticket recipient," the blog says. "American Traffic Solutions has repositioned cameras and cropped photos so that it is impossible to determine whether another object or vehicle happens to be within the radar unit's field of view."

In fairness to ATS, we do not know for sure whether the alleged image manipulation was done by the company or by the municipalities in question. But realize these are handy arguments when fighting a speeding ticket that's based on a photograph.

Other cars cropped out -- There is legal precedent that speeding ticket photos can be dismissed if other cars are visible in the photo. Other vehicles create "radar noise" that interferes with the accuracy of the reading on the car in question.

The camera operators are wise to this, and have reportedly started cropping other cars out of the photographs. If you've received a speeding ticket because of an automated picture, you may be able to challenge the ticket if there are other cars in the photo -- and if those cars haven't been cropped out yet.

Repositioning the cameras -- These aren't exactly high-tech Photoshop methods of altering images. A simple repositioning of the camera can change the photo, eliminating the white lines used to get a second opinion on the camera's initial judgement.

Here's one photo where the white lines are visible. At a different angle, the white lines can't be seen. White lines can be used to challenge the camera's assessment, so operators have an incentive to position the camera so the white lines are out of view when a car comes into snapshot range.

ATS is one of two major traffic camera operating firms in the US. The other is Redflex, who've been involved with a huge bribery scandal with Chicago city contracts.

I don't wish to argue against automated systems used for traffic safety. But a possible culture of corruption in the red-light traffic camera business makes for a pretty embarrassing picture.