Half of cases rejected
Lt. John Schardine scrutinized the monitor as it played a video of a black truck cruising through an intersection, past a light that had been red for more than 10 seconds.
The driver would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for the red-light camera on watch.
Schardine, of the Maitland Police Department’s special operations division, said he did not know how dangerous the intersection of Maitland Avenue and Marion Way was until it became monitored.
“My thoughts were, ‘There’s no way we’re gonna be able to justify a red-light camera here, because what could possibly happen at this intersection?’ Well, lo and behold, we get an average of 200 violations a month,” he said.
The cameras are on duty or in the approval process in many Central Florida municipalities. They’ve been in Orlando since 2008 and Winter Springs since 2009. Winter Park and Maitland joined the program this year.
Schardine said that the number of violations per month has been slowly decreasing — there were 213 citations in January and 186 in June. Citations are only sent after both Schardine and the camera vendor review the camera footage to determine if the law was broken.
Out of the 3,500 cases the camera system has sent to the police department since the program’s start in January, about 1,200 have resulted in citations. Police reject cases for reasons including a blurry image, missing vehicle information, a right turn on red, emergency vehicles and funeral processions.
Winter Park implemented its program in February.
In the first full month of the program, Winter Park issued 372 citations. Just like in Maitland, that number decreased slowly, down to 227 citations in June. The vendor and the police department throw out about 70 percent of the cases the camera records.
“The mere deterrent to people thinking they can make the intersection without any repercussions will cause them to think twice before attempting to go through the intersection on a red light,” said Mike Hilton, of the Winter Park Police Department’s special operations division.
“The ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of crashes for the safety of the public.”
As for Winter Springs, its numbers are more mixed. The first camera in the city became active in May 2009 at State Road 434 and Winding Hollow. In May, 58 citation fees were collected. In January 2011, 77 were collected. The numbers have gone up and down.
On the other hand, the city’s more recently monitored intersection, 434 and Vistawilla, received 91 citation payments in February 2010, but only 11 in January 2011. Low numbers have persisted ever since.
Oviedo discussed red-light cameras but has not implemented them.
“Right now we’re not making any money; we’re not losing any money. So basically, they’re self-sustaining right now,” said Shawn Boyle, Winter Springs’ finance and administration director,
Last year, former Gov. Charlie Crist passed the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, which regulates the camera programs. It also increased the amount of each fine to $158. The state receives $83 per fine, but doesn’t provide any money for camera upkeep. The remaining revenue collected is split between the vendor and the city or county.
Orlando pays its vendor, American Traffic Solutions, $3,200 per month for intersection upkeep and processing violations. Since implementing its camera program in September 2008, $7.4 million in fines have been collected as of June 30 and distributed among the state, city and ATS.
Maitland adopted the program in January. Its one monitored intersection is just breaking even, said Sharon Anselmo, the city’s management services director. She said that safety, not profit, is the goal of the program.
“Most times when the light turns green, I hesitate before I go, because I’ve seen a big semi blow by after the lights turned green,” she said. “I do think there is a problem. Just statistically, from the one camera we have up, the cameras change behaviors, because we’re seeing less tickets issued.”
Maitland pays its vendor, Gatso USA, $9,200 per month. Since its implementation in January through June 30, Maitland’s ticket revenue was $117,394. Out of that, $61,669 was paid to the state; $53,716 went to the vendor; and $1,486 went to a law enforcement-training fund. The city was left with $523 to add to its general fund.
If the city has not made enough money, the vendor accepts what the city is able to give, but the balance rolls over to the next month. The cameras can also be moved to a different intersection if their current position no longer collects adequate fines.
ATS provides cameras for Orlando and Winter Springs, as well as 70 other cities in Florida. Charles Territo, a spokesman from ATS, said that the cameras are installed to change the behavior of drivers.
“There is nothing in the Constitution that says drivers have the right to run red lights, break the law or put others in danger,” he said.
Rethinking the law
In May, the Florida House passed a bill that may have repealed the Mark Wandall Act, but the legislative session ended before the Senate could vote on it. In order for it to pass in the next session, the House would have to reintroduce it and start the process over. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Richard Corcoran, said he has not yet decided whether or not to do so.
Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Dean Cannon’s office, said the crux of the argument is twofold. “There were members of the House who felt that local governments weren’t as concerned with the safety aspect of the cameras and were becoming reliant on the revenue stream.”
The second part of the argument, she said, is that some studies show that the cameras cause an increase in rear-end collisions in monitored intersections because nervous drivers stop too quickly at yellow lights to avoid being caught by the cameras.
However, Mike Rhodes, Orlando’s Code Enforcement division manager, said that the city saw a 20 percent reduction in rear-end collisions. In addition, the number of accidents caused by running red lights has decreased by one third at Orlando’s monitored intersections since the cameras were installed.
Maitland’s Schardine suggests that the state should address complaints by making more consistent rules on driver fault. For example, some cities strictly monitor drivers turning right on red, making sure they come to a full stop, while others do not.
Maitland plans to add six more intersections to its program, meaning it will need to hire extra help to review the footage caught on camera. Soon, U.S. Highway 17-92 and Horatio Avenue and 17-92 and Lake Avenue will be under the watch of cameras.
Even if the revenue isn’t what the cities expected, the red-light cameras are making the streets safer, proponents say.
It makes people think...,” Winter Park’s Hilton said. “Even if the intersection doesn’t have a camera, they’ll think twice.”