Tallahassee, FL – Florida drivers beware. Red light cameras are in use around the state despite a concerted effort from the House legislation to bar the devices. But, Regan McCarthy reports, there's still a chance they could be declared illegal.
Last year legislators gave the green light to red light cameras giving municipalities the right to patrol intersections remotely. Based on a car's speed, sensors can recognize when a car likely won't stop prior to a red light, signaling cameras to snap a photo of the car's approach and license plate just as the car crosses the intersection's white painted stop line. But some feel that method of patrol is invasive. Representative Richard Corcoran of New Port Richey introduced a bill that passed with cheers in the House. Corcoran says red light cameras bring up questions of constitutionality.
"When you have a situation that you can be ticketed for running a red light by a police officer and points are assessed to your license and you can be ticketed by a red light cameras and points aren't assessed. You're treating two different citizens with the same punishment differently."
And he's not alone. Robert Azcano a lawyer for The Ticket Clinic says red light cameras are both illegal and unconstitutional. He agrees with Corcoran and say red light cameras violate due process. Red light violators caught by a camera are sent a 158-dollar bill. But a person wanting to contest such a ticket must be prepared to pay a more expensive ticket and potentially court costs.
"Once you elect to contest a citation all those things come into play the points, the higher fine and the entry on your driving record. If you just pay the 150 they drop it like it never happened and that's why we're arguing that they're coercing people to just pay the 158 to get the easy way out."
Also, Azcano says it's unfair the owner of the car is left with the burden of proving someone else was the driver. He uses the example of a man in the military who is overseas and has been for quite some time, but who recently received a red light citation.
"And according to the statue, if he cannot say who was in custody of his vehicle on the day in question, he's responsible for it."
Meaning the law says despite the fact the man can prove definitively that he wasn't in the country on the day of the event he could still have to pay.
Even City of Tallahasee Traffic Mobility Manager Alan Secreast agrees. He says, in cities like Tallahassee, people are often inclined to just pay rather than go to court. But there's one major point on which the two sides disagree. Corcoran says he introduced the legislation because red light cameras are actually making intersections less safe. And Azcano says studies claiming to prove the cameras make intersections safer are looking at the wrong thing. Azcano says the studies should not focus on a reduction of crashes or fatalities at intersections.
"But my question would have been has it cut down the amount of violations because if you have a thousand violations in one month and after you've used the cameras for a few months its now dropped to 200 I think that's an argument to be had, but stating well we had five deaths last year and this year we only had two. That seems like it could be a huge coincidence rather than due to the red light cameras."
But Secreast says the cameras do make intersections safer. He says members of the public often report to him they've started making a greater effort to stop at every intersection because they're never sure which light has a camera.
"There's a lot of behavior out there as people approaching an intersection they see a yellow light, we want them to think about stopping instead of trying to see if they can make it through or not."
Corcoran's bill died in the Senate. He says he's considering bringing forth similar legislation again next year. Meanwhile, in June, Azcano is continuing his effort to fight red light cameras in Orange County.