Florida's Red Light Cameras

A red light camera
Paul Sableman/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Caught on camera has taken on new meaning in Florida. Hundreds of red light cameras have been installed at dangerous intersections throughout Florida during the last year, and they are catching thousands of red light violations daily. As a result, hundreds of car owners are opening their mailboxes to discover a "ticket" for a traffic violation that they may or may not have committed or even remember.

Placing of these cameras in Florida was made legal in May of 2010 when then-Governor Charlie Crist signed into law the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, a "red light camera" bill aimed at deterring red light runners and making dangerous intersections safer. While the spirit of the bill, named after a man that was killed by a red light runner in 2003, was intended to be all about safety, the money generated from these tickets has become just one of the controversies surrounding red light cameras. Many see them as an easy way for cash-strapped cities to tax unsuspecting motorists.

The debate also rages over the “safety” of red light cameras. While the cameras are credited with reducing the number of accidents from front to side impacts and the resulting serious injuries that typically come with that type of crash, the cameras may also cause more rear-end collisions. Proponents of red light cameras argue that rear-end collisions are usually less severe and that the cameras help deter the more serious crashes.

How Red Light Cameras Work

How do red light cameras work? Cameras installed at dangerous intersections continuously monitor traffic. Intersections are chosen because of past traffic accident history caused by red light runners that result in serious injuries. Sensors located just before the crosswalk or traffic stop line are coordinated with the traffic lights; and, depending on the system installed, a series of photographs and video captures the offending vehicle before it enters the intersection and follows its progression through the intersection. The cameras record the date, time of day, vehicle speed and license plate.

It is standard practice for law enforcement agencies have one or more officers review the photos and video before a citation is issued. Only those clearly in violation of the traffic signal are issued citations, which are mailed to the vehicle’s owner.

Red Light Violations

A red light violation occurs when a vehicle enters the intersection after the signal has turned red. Violations may occur if drivers fail to come to a complete stop before turning at intersections allowing right turn on red. Motorists that are inadvertently in an intersection when the traffic light turns red are not considered red light runners.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid a citation is not to run a red light and make sure you stop before the crosswalk or traffic stop line. Additionally, make sure you come to a complete stop before turning right on red at a signal.

Know the locations of Florida’s red light cameras and either avoid the intersections or be extra careful to avoid running the light when it turns red.

What to Do If You Receive a Ticket

So, you’ve just gotten a ticket in the mail. What do you do next? You have two choices – pay the ticket or fight the ticket in court. Florida’s red-light camera law allows violators to mail in $158. No notation will be made on your driver’s license.

However, if you feel the citation was issued in error, you were not driving your vehicle at the time or feel the ticket is unfair, you may fight it in court. The proliferation of red light cameras has been met equally with a proliferation of lawyers who will take your "case" before a judge for a fee. Simply search the Internet for “red light attorney” in your area. One attorney in South Florida is only charging $75 and will refund the fee if he is not successful in getting your case dismissed. His track record is pretty good — out of 550 cases in four counties, he has not lost one. It is important to note that may not be the case in other areas of Florida. The outcome depends on a judge’s attitude about the cameras and whether he or she feels the law has been fairly administered.

The Bottom Line

Intersections should be marked with a sign indicating they are camera enforced. Drive carefully and be aware that many major intersections are now enforced with red light cameras. 

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