How Red Light Cameras Are Classic "Ambushes"

By now we are all aware of Red Light Cameras. They were implemented under the guise of "Safety." We have heard about them, we have seen them, and some of us have been caught by them. It, like most politics of today, has divided us. You have the people that are protesting with signs against them and you have the opinion letter writers posting their thoughts for them in local papers.

The question isn't whether they are effective - they are, to the tune of millions of dollars being sucked out of our local economies and being sent to companies located in New York or Arizona. The real question is why they are so effective.

Do That Many People Really Run Red Lights

With the astronomical revenue being generated by Red Light Cameras it is easy to protest and easy to applaud them. The protesters see the cameras as governmental hands reaching into our pockets and taking our money. The pro-camera types look at the numbers generated and think everyone of those cited deserve it because they ran a red light.

The reality is on the side of the protesters. Unfortunately, the pro-camera types are sadly misinformed. There are reasons why the numbers are so high and each reason should make everyone disgusted with the level of greed and corruption our local and state governments presents. I have been fighting these tickets in court since they arrived over three years ago and below I will go through all the reasons why I find these cameras the most vile act perpetrated against citizens in the state of Florida since I have been a lawyer.

The List of Sins

Red Light Cameras ticket the owners of cars that are considered to have entered into the intersection after the light has turned red. Entering the intersection after the light has turned red means the front tire has not crossed the white stop-bar (white painted line on the road) while the light was still yellow. The cameras take a picture of a vehicle just before crossing that white stop-bar. It shows the color of the light before the car has passed into the intersection. Based on this picture a ticket is issued.

The camera also gives the time of how long the light was red prior to a cited vehicle entering into the intersection. This information does not factor into whether or not a ticket is issued. For cameras, the issue is black or white - was the light red.

Why So Many Tickets - The Shorten Yellow Light

Fast forward to May of 2013 when it was discovered that at the beginning of 2011 the Florida Department of Transportation [FDOT] amended their long-standing rule of how they calculate the yellow-light times for approaching vehicles. What had been working fine for decades all of a sudden needed to be changed just six months after the Red Light Camera statute [s. 316.0083, F.S.] came into existence. Also understand that an administrative rule change usually takes months if not years to go from suggestion to actual enforceable rule, - so the idea to change the rule was hatched after the initial cameras had been installed but before the Red Light Camera law took effect. These changes resulted in yellow-light times being shortened and often times they were shortened drastically. These changes did something else. It destroyed years of studies done at many intersections that were used to determine the correct yellow-light time used prior to 2011.

Last year, after having been caught with the short-yellows, the FDOT reluctantly decided to arbitrarily up the yellow-light times to "help senior citizens have more time to react." I have paraphrased the reason here but that was their publicized reasoning. It had nothing to do with the fact that they had very recently and dangerously shortened them or anything to do with the Red Light Cameras. It was for the "safety" of our seniors. However, the amount they decided to lengthen the yellow-lights was far short of what the times were before the 2011 rule change and it was not based on any studies. It was an arbitrary appeasing bump - that's it.

For all the pro-camera people, you should understand that the vast majority of people cited for running red lights by cameras run the lights within 3/10ths of a second after it has turned red. The rule change shortened the yellow-light times between 4/10ths to a 1 second on average. Just enough to make the cameras very profitable. Also note that this change had nothing to do with safety.

A Careful And Prudent Right Hand Turn

Read the Red Light Camera law and you will see that you are not suppose to get ticketed if you make a right-on-red turn "carefully and prudently." Look closer and you will also see that the Red Light Camera law enforces a different statute. It enforces section 316.074 and 316.075 of the Florida Statutes. In order to know what the definition of "careful and prudent" means you have to read those two statutes because each requires you to come to a complete stop before making a right-on-red turn.

"Well if that's the law..." It is the law. The difference is that for generations we have made safe right-on-red turns that did not involve coming to a complete stop. They may have been illegal but police would rarely cite someone for making this type of turn at an intersection and they were generally accepted. Enter the Red Light Camera and now we will enforce the letter of the law. No exceptions. What was okay for generations is now strictly forbidden.

So why the "Careful and Prudent" language in the statute? It was never in sections 316.074 or 316.075. So why put it in the Red Light Camera statute? It seems very confusing. Even with the revamped statute that came out in 2013 the language remains. It is there on purpose yet the only thing it does is confuse.

The Placement of the Signs Indicating a Camera Exists

The FDOT rules require signage to be placed at intersections that have Red Light Cameras. The signs are placed well ahead of the oncoming intersection. The distance is determined by the speed limit on the road. Sounds fair. But let's not forget the stated purpose of the cameras by those politicians that signed the contracts with these companies - Safety. Why only put them well before the intersection when drivers are not looking for such signs. Why not, in the name of safety, also place them right at the corner where someone needing to make a right turn may think twice about not stopping. Why not hang them up by the lights themselves where people actually look?

The New Ability to Challenge Your Notice of Violation

The new law also allows people to challenge the Notice of Violation [NOV] before it turns into a ticket. Sounds pretty sweet, eh! Unfortunately, the statute turns this administrative hearing into a Kangaroo Court. The statute states that at these hearings "[f]ormal rules of evidence do not apply, but due process shall be observed and govern the proceedings." This is a joke. You will have due process to have any "evidence" used against you. On top of this travesty, the local hearing officer can fine you up to $250 in administrative fees on top of the $158 for the NOV.

The rules of evidence have been developed for one purpose - to make sure evidence introduced before a fact-finder is truthful, competent, and not misleading. At these hearings, none of that applies. The enforcement officers will jump right into showing the video, the pictures, and the registration. You cannot object because ... rules of evidence don't apply.

The Red Light Camera Companies

Despite Florida's Chapter 119 Sunshine Laws we will never know the true conversations that took place between the municipalities and the red light camera companies. Suffice it to say, the companies, with their years of experience, had a say on everything about the use of the cameras. They helped write the law, the contracts, and help change the FDOT rules. Everything about the Red Light Cameras was done on purpose from the "Careful and Prudent" language, meant to trick people into running red lights, to the placement of the cameras at intersections where right-on-red turns are prevalent even if that means putting one in front of a hospital's emergency room entrance.

Whenever the Red Light Cameras come under attack the politicians run back behind the "Cameras are for Safety" barricade. It's a ready made safe-harbor that the camera companies sold the politicians back when they convinced them about how much money could be made. Let's face it, politicians today are not known for their foresight and in the case of Red Light Cameras they really failed in perceiving the disaster these cameras would have on voter's perceptions. Another area where politicians typically score an "F" is in economics. How often we hear about the millions a "College Bowl Game" will bring into the local economy or a "Bike Week" or some other event. Yet despite the municipalities boasting of how much money was generated by Red Light Camera fines they failed to realize the millions that were being sucked out of our economies and sent to other states.

What Red Light Cameras Do Well

Red Light Cameras do one thing well - pad the municipal coffers with money that is labeled "For Safety" and not as a tax increase. That has to have politicians mouths watering! However, the reality is that it is much worse. It is a lie. Shortening yellow-light times is not safe. Confusing people is not safe. Placing cameras not in high accident intersections but at intersections where the most money will be generated is a lie.

When Red Light Cameras Go Away

These cameras do not go away until the political heat becomes too much for our esteemed leaders (see Clermont - still has cameras but...) or, more likely, the money generated by these cameras dries up (see St. Petersburg). And when the tenure of repeal starts to rise the red light camera companies like American Traffic Solutions [ATS] run to Tallahassee with millions of our money to pocket the re-election war chests of our holy legislators. More disturbing, more stomach churning, is that when asked about these large donations, companies like ATS call this "educating" the legislators.

Getting A Fair Hearing

In court the lies are even worse. Most counties have submitted to political pressure and rammed the Red Light Camera tickets home. Some still tend to actually obey the law. Even then trying to get answers from Red Light Camera companies is incredibly hard. The law [s. 316.07456, F.S.] requires that the cameras meet specific testing requirements set out by FDOT. However, the companies all claim that those specifications are "trade secrets" and do not disclose them. So it is and has been from day-one impossible to find out whether or not a particular camera was functioning properly when its data was used to issue a ticket. No one cited in Florida and no court hearing a Red Light Camera case has ever known the answer required to be told pursuant to s. 316.07456, Fla. Stat.

Red Light Cameras Expose The Lies

Nothing about a Red Light Camera is truthful. From the moment municipalities started their campaigns for "safety" to today when cameras are moved because drivers have "changed their behavior." If a local politician is talking about the cameras he or she is lying to some degree. It doesn't matter if they are trying to convince you of the safety aspects of the cameras or their desire to repeal the law.

The one benefit the Red Light Cameras have given us is that it has exposed the disgusting ability of political leaders and appointees to, despite the exposed truth, to look us right in our eyes and lie.

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