Amid Doubts Over Reliability, Israel Suspends Use of Traffic Cameras

Prosecutor orders freeze while devices are tested following years of suspicions and a class action suit

Two traffic lights in Jerusalem on May 14, 2008
Santiago Calatrava

Enforcement of Israel’s speed limits was thrown into confusion late on Sunday after the State Prosecutor’s Office told police to stop enforcing the rules because the traffic cameras they rely on to catch speeders are unreliable.

While the cameras are being tested for their reliability – a period police would not predict -- both police and legal experts cautioned drivers against adding a few extra kilometers per hour while they are on the road, or hoping to get a refund for fines they have run up in the past.

“The matter is now being examined,” police said in a statement. “However, it should be noted that the speed cameras will continue to monitor driving at excessive speeds. The decision on enforcement will be taken when the examination is completed.”

Meanwhile, Tomer Gonen, the attorney who can take credit for alerting officials to the problem after he filed a class action suit two years ago, told TheMarker that drivers who were ticketed based on the cameras and paid the fine were unlikely to get their money back, even if the examination finds the cameras unreliable.

The reason, he explained, is that the driver admitted to his or her guilt by paying the fine. However, those who challenged the ticket in court, even if they lost, stand a better chance. So do those who have an unpaid fine: They can seek to delay their court date and if the hearing comes while the examination is still going, they can use the suspicions of the cameras’ unreliability to challenge the ticket.

Moreover, even though the cameras’ evidence will not be used for now as the basis for issuing a speeding ticket, it might be later if their reliability is successfully demonstrated.

Sunday’s decision by Shlomo Lemberger, the deputy prosecutor for criminal affairs, came after an increasingly embarrassing series of events which showed that the government’s Standards Institute had apparently never properly examined the cameras, known as A-3s, before they began being deployed around the country in 2013, despite many experts saying they would do little to reduce traffic accidents.

Before the government embarked on a 100 million shekel ($28 million) program to place some 300 cameras around the country, the institute was supposed to have ensured they worked properly. But drivers’ began casting doubts almost immediately and Gonen filed a class action suit in the name of 20 drivers in Acre Traffic Court five years ago.

The case is still not over, although testimony has been taken. That included questioning Ilan Carmit, who is now the acting head of the institute but was chief of its industrial division when he was called to give evidence.

Carmit said that the cameras underwent testing in the Netherlands and that Israel approved their use based on the result of those tests, apparently without conducting its own. He said a copy of the report was filed at the institute, but no copy was found.

When Carmit was cross-examined by Gonen at the start of 2017, he responded that he “doesn’t remember” where the report was filed.
The police asked the court to suspend the proceedings while it sent a delegation to the Netherlands to find the original report. What the delegation discovered was that the Dutch do indeed use the same cameras but had never conducted trials of their own, rather they had relied on tests done in Germany 10 or 15 years earlier.  

Meanwhile, the police and prosecutors office had their suspicions, which Gonen said were prompted by complaints he made to the State Comptroller’s Office and the attorney general, and asked the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to conduct its own tests, which raised questions about the reliability.

In 2016 the state comptroller took to task the entire system of traffic enforcement, noting problems with the cameras. Nevertheless the Public Security Ministry ordered 40 more cameras.

In an interview with TheMarker Monday, Carmit insisted that there were documents attesting to the Dutch tests and he had given them to the police. He asserted that the cameras were reliable.

“We did everything correctly. There are certificates, including a German certificate given more than 10 years ago. The cameras have approval in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, and they work in all those places. Only in Israel do they think they are unreliable,” Carmit said.