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Florida Legislature Passes Red Light Camera Law Ticket or Tax

More than 50 Florida counties and cities have already implemented the use of automated camera evidence in issuing traffic tickets for running red lights. The Florida Senate recently followed House lawmakers by approving a bill that provides standards under which municipalities and counties can adopt ordinances to allow the use of cameras to enforce traffic violations at intersections. While current law does not expressly prohibit this type of local enforcement, more communities will likely implement this tactic once it is sanctioned by the state.

Gov. Charlie Crist has yet to sign the red-light camera legislation, which cleared the Senate in late April with over 80 per cent of member votes. As provided by HB325 and SB 294, the owner of a vehicle that is photographed running a stop light would receive a $150 ticket. Half of the revenue goes to the local government entity, which in turn pays a significant share to a private company to install and maintain the equipment, and even to "bill" violators in some cases. Most of the remainder goes to the state General Revenue fund, with a small portion remitted to trauma care centers and hospitals. The process does not involve any attempt to identify or cite the actual driver.

Traffic Enforcement or Toll Collection?

Because local governments in Florida are finding it tough to collect sufficient revenue through property taxes and other sources due to the recession, they rely increasingly on traffic tickets and DUI fines to finance programs. Worse yet, once systems such as red-light cameras are entrenched as a revenue source, they create a disincentive for local governments to synchronize lights for maximum flow or partially deactivate unneeded lights during times of sparse traffic. The result: increased frustration for motorists who feel that authorities should encourage safe and efficient traffic flow.

The National Motorists Association, which strongly opposes the use of red-light cameras, outlines a variety of objections to the use of cameras for traffic enforcement:

  • Notification of ticket recipients is often adequate, such as notices by regular mail
  • No positive identification of the actual driver is required
  • Ticket recipients often do not receive timely notification of violations
  • Ticket camera installations do not improve safety
  • Taking pictures does nothing to stop truly reckless and dangerous drivers

Some commentators argue that minor increases in yellow light durations are a far more effective and low-cost way to increase traffic safety at intersections. Yet some municipalities have done just the opposite. In 2009, a motorist in Baytown, Texas, challenged the yellow-light interval after receiving an automated ticket, and learned that it was set at 3.1 seconds - almost a full second less than the four seconds mandated by state guidelines. During just one month of the period of insufficient yellow light duration, the automated system issued $222,587 in tickets in a city of fewer than 80,000 people.

In Norcross, Georgia, in 2009, officials abandoned the use of red-light cameras in the wake of mandatory increases in yellow-light intervals statewide, because violations dropped to the point where the privately operated camera systems were costing the city revenue. And the installation of cameras at intersections has been challenged for safety reasons: in a study of six jurisdictions over a seven-year period, the Virginia Transportation Research Council concluded that camera installations were associated with an increase in rear-end collisions.

The high cost of these systems, coupled with their questionable contribution to public safety, makes them a clear target for groups that are concerned with tax abuse, as well as privacy issues and constitutional rights. One prominent opponent, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, testified against such laws as a matter of public policy: "Do we, as a society, want to live in a panopticon where we have cameras, monitored and maintained by the state, that can take away a person's freedom?"

The Legal Issues

Most jurisdictions nationwide that have installed red-light cameras have faced legal challenges, including arguments that such enforcement violates a citizen's expectation of privacy or right to due process, or denies defendants the right to confront their accusers. In some cases, local ordinances have been overturned because a municipality had acted in conflict with existing state laws that did not spell out such methods of enforcement. But the legislation currently before the Florida governor clearly authorizes red-light cameras statewide, and a new source of revenue would be tapped from driver's wallets.

While these types of tickets generally do not add points to your driving record, they can affect your ability to register your car or obtain a license plate. It is important to investigate the facts of each particular alleged violation with the help of an attorney.

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