A 'compromise' bill that would make it harder for cities and counties to enforce red light violations caught by traffic intersection cameras scored a major victory Thursday, as it passed a House committee on a 12-4 vote.
HB 1061 (Traffic Control), introduced by Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, would place several restrictions on how local governments use the controversial red light devices to monitor intersections and punish violators. It passed the House Economic Affairs Committee on a nearly party-line vote, with freshman Rep. Mike Clelland of Lake Mary the only Democrat voting to support it.
The devices, which are operated by private corporations, contain special sensors which are supposed to videotape and snap photographs of the license plates of drivers who run red lights. Employees of the corporation review the videos taken, and submit those of apparent traffic offenses to city or county police officers, who in turn make the final determination whether a driver receives a code violation citation (not a regular traffic citation).
Once issued a code citation -- with a fine of $158 -- from the cameras, a vehicle owner is presumed liable unless he can prove he was not driving the car at the time of the alleged violation or otherwise demonstrates theinaccuracyof the images or their interpretation by law enforcement officials. Vehicle owners who fail to pay the fine are issued a uniform traffic citation; failure to pay the citation can result in one's license being suspended.
HB 1061 would change the existing law in place since 2010 in several respects:
-- removing all authority to enforce right-on-red violations through red light cameras; the law presently allows local government authorities to issue right-on-red citations if the driver does not make the turn in a careful and prudent manner, but does not define what exactly constitutes a careful and prudent manner";
-- requiring that red light camera notices of violation be sent through certified mail, rather than first-class mail; several alleged violators have claimed that they never received notice of a violation, and for not acting on it have had their licenses suspended;
-- allowing a vehicle owner who receives the notice of violation to request a hearing within 30 days, without having to wait until the notice of violation becomes a uniform traffic citation;
-- specifying that local governments cannot charge a fee to request a hearing;
-- lengthening the amount of time a traffic light stays on yellow before switching to red; several intersections that have had cameras installed in them have decreased the yellow light duration, catching many drivers (and alleged violators) by surprise.
According to a committee staff analysis, the bill might require traffic engineers to attend hearings to testify, if an alleged violator claims the government is not complying with the yellow light provisions.
Proponents of red light cameras claim the devices are much-needed revenue-generating devices for local governments and that they increase traffic safety, while critics allege the cameras do not make intersections safer and that they violate drivers' constitutional due process rights. (Both sides appeal to conflicting studies on the cameras' effectiveness in reducing crashes.) Critics also say the contracts entangle local governments too closely with for-profit interests.
I agree with Representative [Carlos] Trujillo that the cameras have turned into a money-grabbing scheme by municipalities and counties, not just a safety issue, Artiles tells Sunshine State News. These things are popping up everywhere because our [local governments] are having a huge problem balancing their books.
Trujillo, R-Miami, has joined Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, in proposing HB 4011 (Traffic Infraction Detectors), which would strip local governments of their authority to install the cameras, but would otherwise reserve that authority to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV).
If the full repeal were to be on the floor [of the House of Representatives], I would probably support it; the red light cameras are clearly a problem, but I also understand that if you can't get rid of them, if you can't repeal them, then we should regulate them so you have a uniform standard. Artiles explains. This is my compromise.
Reach Eric Giunta at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (954) 235-9116.