Albuquerque’s red light camera system now faces a legal threat that could shut it down and force the city to pay back $7 million worth of fines to drivers who got tickets.

In just over two years the cameras have caught 50,000 drivers running red lights or speeding at Albuquerque intersections. Five of those drivers filed a lawsuit last winter arguing that the cameras are in conflict with state traffic laws, mainly because a police officer is not catching drivers and because the appeals process is unfairly stacked against the drivers.

At the same time city councilors are considering weakening or even gutting the camera law.

“I think some of these opponents need to take a big dose of personal responsibility,” said Mayor Martin Chavez. “I’ve never heard more cockamamie excuses as to why it’s okay to run a red light.”

Now Judge Valerie Huling has ruled the lawsuit is a class action. That means every driver ticketed is now part of the lawsuit and could potentially get their fine money back if the city loses the case. A total of $7 million.

“Sometimes you get caught and you wonder why,” said Franklyn Pilgrim, one of the drives challenging the red light tickets. “I’ve told my boss many times. I’m sitting at Jefferson to turn on Paseo and that light is flashing. There’s no one going through.”

“People are annoyed by red light runners, but you don’t target annoyances like this. Everybody’s starting to try to legislate annoyances. It’s getting out of hand,” said Greg Diehl, who is also challenging a ticket.

But Mayor Chavez defends the red light system, claiming the cameras save lives.

“The fact of the matter is Level One trauma calls are down 24% in those intersections – citywide, an 8% reduction in accidents,” he said. “That’s Albuquerqueans whose lives are being saved.”

Last January Judge Geraldine Rivera ruled the camera system is legal because the tickets are not regular traffic tickets but civil nuisance citations.

The fine is $100 the first time a driver is caught running a red light. The second offense is now $200 and the third violation is $300.