Florida to Decide Legality of Red Light Cameras

A traffic light with a camera to watch motorists

Whether you love them or hate them, Florida’s red-light cameras remain controversial. Red light cameras sit at intersections. They have motion detectors to determine when a driver may be running a red light. The camera takes a still photo of the vehicle’s license plate and a photo of the driver. Law enforcement issues a ticket for a red light infraction.

The City of Tampa uses red light cameras at about 55 different locations. Dozens of other cities in Florida also use the cameras. Seeing a red light ticket appear in your mailbox can be enough to ruin anyone’s day. Although the cameras are meant to prevent accidents and needing a car accident attorney after, they remain controversial in Florida.

The Florida Legislature Is About to Decide the Legality of Red Light Cameras

Florida legislators are currently deciding whether to ban red light cameras. Florida’s current state laws allow the use of red-light cameras, but they’re not required. Red light cameras first became legal in Florida in 2010 with the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that red light camera tickets issued before that time were illegal.

Each city in Florida decides whether to use the cameras. Typically, a city contracts with a third-party company to install the cameras and even evaluate video to find possible offenders. A red light camera violation typically comes with a fine of $158, but it doesn’t carry points on a driver’s license if you pay the fine without a hearing.

It’s up to Florida legislators to decide whether to pass a bill banning the use of the cameras. The pending bill calls for Florida cities to phase out their red light camera programs by the year 2021. The bill passed the Florida House of Representatives, and now it’s up to the Florida Senate to decide whether to approve the measure. Analysts say that it’s not clear whether there’s sufficient support in the Florida Senate to approve the bill. However, the bill easily passed the house by a vote of 83 to 18.

The bill is labeled House Bill 6001 regarding traffic infraction detectors. The bill repeals provisions that relate to red light cameras. Representative Bryan Avila says that local governments are addicted to the revenue that the cameras produce and that the cameras are the equivalent of robbery. The bill is big business for the companies that make and operate the cameras. In fact, American Traffic Solutions, which sells many of the cameras in place in Florida, hired 26 lobbyists to fight the measure.

The Arguments for and Against Red Light Cameras

There are several reasons that red-light cameras are controversial in Florida. Supporters of the cameras say that red light cameras give drivers a reason to drive more cautiously. They point to a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles study that says cities that use the cameras reported a five percent decrease in traffic crashes that resulted from a driver running a red light. They say that the benefits of the cameras and their potential to save lives outweigh the drawbacks. Florida Police Chiefs Association executive director Amy Mercer says that the cameras improve public safety.

Critics of the cameras say that law enforcement uses the cameras to boost government revenues rather than to enforce the law and improve traffic safety. They say that cities that use red-light cameras shorten the length of their yellow lights to collect revenues of over $100 million from drivers who are used to longer yellow lights. They say that proponents of the cameras cherry pick their data and that it’s far from conclusive that red light cameras work to improve public safety. They also say that there are also constitutional issues with a red light camera ticketing system because an accused offender has no one to confront other than a video camera.

Previous Efforts to Repeal Red Light Cameras Failed

This isn’t the first time that Florida lawmakers have tried to end the use of red light cameras. Previous efforts made it past the House of Representatives but couldn’t pass the Senate. Lawmakers who voted against the measure say that it’s less expensive to have red light cameras than it is to have officers patrolling the same intersections.

The Florida Supreme Court Upheld the Use of Red Light Cameras

The Florida legislature is about to make their decision against the backdrop of a recent Florida Supreme Court decision that upheld the validity of red light cameras. In the case of Aventura v. Luis Torres Jimenez, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that use of the cameras do not violate the rights of citizens who receive tickets. The legal challenge in the Jimenez case surrounded the use of third-party contractors to operate the cameras and prepare the tickets. Jimenez argued that law enforcement cannot essentially delegate their functions to third-party operators.

The Florida Supreme Court said that they didn’t believe that the third-party contractors were doing work that amounted to law enforcement. They said that they believed the contracted work was ministerial while a law enforcement officer makes the final decision about whether to issue the ticket. The Court approved the contracting agency to take photographs and compile data as long as a sworn law enforcement officer authorizes the ticket.

Constitutional Challenges and the Right of Confrontation

Even though the Florida Supreme Court approved of the use of red light cameras, they remain controversial for other reasons. Critics say that a camera doesn’t give the person who receives the ticket the right to confront their accuser. They say that a camera can’t be an accuser.

Critics say that the officer can only testify that a camera exists. They can’t testify with knowledge about the specific case or about how the camera is installed or maintained, and they don’t have the answers when it comes to criticisms like intentionally-shortened yellow lights. Also, they say that a camera alone can’t shed light on valid defenses to a red light ticket like a necessity defense or an error in the camera recording and evaluation system.

How Can a Car Accident Attorney Help?

If you’re in an accident or you’re facing an accusation of a red light camera violation, contact us. Any allegation of a violation of the law is a serious matter. If you’ve been in an accident, you may need and deserve compensation for your losses.

At Jack Bernstein, Injury Attorneys we understand that your pet is part of the family and we will use our experience to ensure you get justice if your pet is injured in an accident. We will help you through every step of this trying time to ensure you are able to recover the compensation you deserve.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident, call us at (813) 333-6666 or fill out our contact form to schedule your free case evaluation. There is no fee unless we win.