Florida is well-known for having some pretty major industries. The tourist industry is what usually comes to mind, however, citrus, other fruits and vegetables, and seafood are also multi-million dollar industries here. Also, Florida leads the nation in the production of sugar cane. All of these industries, and many others, lend themselves to a thriving economy for our beautiful state, and most of us appreciate the benefits of a healthy economy. There is one industry here, however, that is not viewed nearly as favorably. I am referring to the red light camera industry.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the red light traffic camera ticket process, allow me to explain. These traffic cameras are set up at various angles at crossroads that report high rates of traffic incidents. If a driver fails to stop for a red light, the corresponding camera snaps a picture of the vehicle’s license plate. These photos are then reviewed and the registered owner of the vehicle is sent a traffic citation through the mail.
This is where problems start to arise. Some of the immediately obvious issues have to do with the process itself. When the traffic ticket is issued to the registered owner, there is no way to validate that the owner was actually driving the car. Not only could a friend or family member be driving, but it is possible the car was sold and not yet correctly registered. Even in a scenario where the registered owner was driving at the time the ticket was issued, an incorrect address either due to a move or mail that is delivered incorrectly could result.
Another such concern is the shortening of the duration of yellow lights. This can lead to momentary indecision on the part of the driver which can often lead to an accident. Additionally, many who oppose the use of these camera question their accuracy. There is more than one picture that has been taken by a traffic camera that shows the driver and the vehicle stopped at the traffic light where the traffic violation supposedly occurred.
The majority of these cameras are owned, installed, and maintained by private companies. These same companies also review the photos and then issue the traffic tickets. That means that every step of the process of issuing traffic tickets that are generated due to red light traffic cameras is handled by someone other than law enforcement officials. Understandably, this has led to a tremendous number of lawsuits. In fact one class action suit states that the use of red light traffic cameras under the current system “… illegally cedes governmental authority to a private company.”
Proponents of red light traffic cameras espouse that these cameras increase traffic safety, but many others point out these obvious concerns. Many lawsuits have been filed regarding red light traffic camera tickets alleging that the issuance of traffic tickets in this manner violates Florida state law. One area of major concern, the legality of their use notwithstanding, is the inability to exercise good judgment. There has been an untold number of these traffic tickets that have been issued to drivers who are executing a right-hand turn. The argument in support of the ticket is that these drivers failed to come to a complete stop, thereby making a “rolling right.” Obviously, a picture cannot sufficiently show whether the driver came to a complete stop. If, however, a police officer witnessed the actions of this same driver, he or she can determine the legality of the turn.
Another excuse that proponents of these cameras use to justify their existence is that this saves the individual municipalities money because they don’t have to hire as many police officers. It is easy to see the absurdity of this argument when you realize that most of the red light traffic cameras found in South Florida are owned by a single company, American Traffic Solutions (ATS). Most of these cameras are bought from ATS and then ATS is paid to install them and maintain them. This is not an inexpensive endeavor in and of itself, but then factor in that each of these traffic tickets carries a fine of $158. Since ATS reviews and issues the tickets, they also get a percentage of the funds that are generated by their very own cameras. Keep in mind that this is not an industry that contributes to Florida’s economy as ATS is an Arizona-based company.
Fortunately, some cities in Florida are beginning to question both the legality and the cost-effectiveness of their use. Hollywood has 18 red light cameras which they have continued to use even though a Supreme Court decision of last year stated that use of a private company to issue traffic tickets is not permitted under Florida law. It has only been recently that Hollywood commissioners decided to do away with the cameras at the urging of Hollywood mayor Peter Bober. Bober’s position was that continuing to use the cameras was just too costly with ATS receiving $50,000 a month to keep these cameras operating.
Yet, just when it looked as though the commissioners were unanimously in agreement to suspend the use of these cameras, an appeal by ATS’s attorney made the city leaders reconsider. He proposed that the city give ATS two months to try to work out a new proposal and ATS would allow Hollywood to skip two payments – in essence, saving the city $100,000. Even Bober, who initially supported the issue vacillated.
“If we can snap our fingers right now and save the city $100,000, I see no reason why not to do that,” Bober said.
If this comes to fruition, it obviously won’t save the city money. If ATS negotiates a new contract, the city will still be paying them tens of thousands of dollars per month to re-implement a program that has been found to violate the laws of Florida.
Although the proposition may be appealing to some city leaders, Hollywood residents were unhappy with the turn of events. Several residents protested the decision and asked the commissioners to allow their previous decision to stand.
“It’s like a zoo back here; a zoo,” resident Helen Chervin told the commissioners. “This is like the Disney Channel. We are going to save $600,000 a year by getting rid of these red-light cameras. Why are we debating this? It’s ludicrous.”
This shows that the argument that is often put forth that red light cameras save money is not valid. You can hire quite a few more cops for $600,000 a year. So, when you weigh all of the factors against their use it just doesn’t make sense that proponents still push for their use. If you have received one of these questionable red light traffic tickets, give our office a call at 967-954-9888 for a free consultation. So many cities still refuse to give up these cameras under the guise of safety but ultimately they are simply supporting a multi-million dollar business.
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