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Topical Breezes
Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
Are red-light cameras a boon to public safety or an abridgment of motorists’ rights?
Frank Bentayou
Since passage of a state law permitting municipalities to install red-light cameras, thousands of Floridians have been nailed for pushing the limit of a caution light. The pictures can identify your car, but not who was driving. That uncertainty has given rise to a sub-industry among defense lawyers. Some claim enforcing red-light camera laws is unjust, perhaps unconstitutional; others say it’s a way to save lives at busy intersections.
Matt Caldwell
Florida State Representative, Republican, Lehigh Acres

I think you would have to say the cameras are a little of both. I don’t think anyone has been able to satisfactorily respond to the Fourth Amendment question of receiving tickets that are generated by a computer. And while it’s true that these drivers are technically on a public right of way and, so, would have no presumption of privacy, there is a valid question about innocence and guilt when you can’t say for sure who was driving the car.

That means you can be convicted of a traffic citation without any proof that you were the one driving. Just because it was your car doesn’t mean it was you who ran the red light.

As for the question of public safety that supporters often bring up, I would refer to the old Mark Twain quote: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." Personally, I think the claim that red-light cameras improve safety is suspect. Any evidence is not clear. And of course some analyses say the presence of the cameras can actually cause more rear-end accidents. Those would be low-speed collisions, so they probably wouldn’t be as bad as the T-bone collision that could happen in an intersection.

Basically, though, what’s clear is that the evidence isn’t clear. And if you can’t prove convincingly that the cameras make roads safer, what really is the point of this program?

I don’t think there’s any question about that. Ninety percent of the municipalities that have installed red-light cameras have done so to increase revenue. It’s just like how lots of small towns have always set up speed traps. This law has allowed them to do that. When the bill was in discussion, there was an effort to use the revenue from camera-generated tickets to educate drivers about auto safety. But there was strong push-back, and it ended up that the revenue goes into general operating funds.

I’d say it's correct to point out that I’m not a fan. I’m suspicious of the cameras’ value in public safety. When there was a floor vote last year, I voted to discontinue them. I think the red-light cameras are questionable as a constitutional matter and questionable as a public-safety matter. You put those two together, and I think it’s an ill-advised program in Florida.

Ted Hollander
Florida attorney and partner at The Ticket Clinic, a state-wide law firm

When this law was being discussed in Tallahassee there was a seven-jurisdictional study to see if was good for public safety. The study showed that the presence of these cameras actually increases accidents. People will slam on the brakes when they see a yellow light and cause a rear-end collision.  

In short, the jury’s still out on whether the cameras are actually beneficial. In Fort Lauderdale, there has been no evidence of decreases in accidents. Also in Fort Lauderdale, when they found no evidence the approach is actually working, they decided to add 15 more cameras. That would quadruple the number of cameras; they have six now. And, yet, there’s not one scintilla of evidence that they’ll reduce accidents. 

Of course, it’s about revenue. They disguise it as a safety program. They say, “This is really about safety, and monetary issues are secondary.” When they’ve got a study that says it causes more accidents, and the city’s own evidence says there’s no reduction, why are they expanding the program? They are making money off these tickets.

My opinion is that the cameras are an abridgment of drivers’ rights, and I understand that driving is a privilege, not a right. But our legislators have decided to use technology that doesn’t show the driver. Other states use technology that does help identify who is at the wheel. Arizona takes a picture of the front of the car as well as the back, showing the license plate. Florida’s technology only shows the back of the car.

There’s more.

With a camera-generated case, you don’t get a notice of violation for 30 days. That makes it very difficult to properly defend yourself. You ask, “Was I driving at that time in that place a month ago.” It’s hard to remember.

Another issue is that legislators created a law that doesn’t require any proof of receipt of the notification by certified mail. So we don’t know if the ticket is actually getting delivered. That’s important because if they don’t properly respond to this ticket, they could potentially go to jail.  

I’ve been working on this issue since day one. And there are many ways it is an abridgment of motorists’ rights. Our lawyers throughout Florida are all doing our part to fight this. It’s unjust and unfair and not good for anything. The only proven benefit of this program is to the for-profit camera companies and the cities that are filling their bank accounts. We believe this is an unconstitutional and illegal tax on the drivers of Florida.

Franklin Adderley
Chief of Police, Fort Lauderdale

Chief Adderley, who was not available for comment for this roundtable, was widely quoted in the press about the cost of enforcing and prosecuting red-light tickets.

He told the Fort Lauderdale SunSentinel, "The rulings have been going against us, and it's been very labor-intensive for our department."

The main problems, according to the newspaper’s reporting, was that cameras installed did not deliver as many citations as Fort Lauderdale and other Broward County cities expected; more drivers than anticipated were fighting their tickets in court and winning; and the cost of enforcing and then prosecuting computer-generated citations was becoming unaffordable.

In other SunSentinel reports, Chief Adderley said the police department had a backlog of potential violations that had not yet been reviewed.

"We want to prevent accidents and traffic violations, and this is a tool to accomplish both, but there is a cost that goes with that," Adderley told reporters.

Matt Hudson
Republican, Florida House of Representatives, District 101, Naples

James Mullen, legislative assistant for Rep. Hudson, contacted at his office in Naples, said the House member was not available to comment on red-light cameras or his April vote to keep them in operation in the state. But he has spoken on record for several Florida news articles.

The Naples News quoted Hudson as saying, “In my county, crashes are down 20 percent, and by golly, if you’ve got 20 percent less crashes in your town, then you’re saving people’s lives, and I think that’s where we should be.” According to the Orlando Sentinel, he argued against the repeal of red-light cameras and urged other Republicans to give the enforcement program more time.

He said Collier County had developed a “revenue-neutral” policy toward red-light camera and that accidents had declined 40 percent at intersections where they were in use.

“We’re here to protect people’s lives,” Hudson told the newspaper.

And, at the end of this year’s legislative session, the Sunshine State News reported that “Rep. Matt Hudson of Naples insisted that the red-light cameras dramatically increased safety.” The Online news service reported that he said statistics support his position.

Mullen said the statistics referred to were trauma-center admissions statewide from vehicle accidents. "And the stats showed a significant decrease in admissions," Mullen said.

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by Dr. Radut.