Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sarasota cashes in on red-light cameras

We saw rapid growth in red light  and speed cameras during the 90’s in Australia during our recession.  Originally justified as preventing accidents, government officials who had difficulty in balancing their books quickly realized that these cameras where a great revenue source. So plan on seeing more of them. Aivars Lode

Florida cities and counties handed out nearly $100 million in tickets generated by red-light cameras during the last year, and Sarasota has quickly become a statewide leader in fining red-light runners.

The statewide total is nearly triple the number of automatically generated fines collected the year before.
The city of Sarasota was a latecomer to the red-light camera trend, starting its ticketing in January. But by June, the city was the 10th most-active ticketer among the 71 Florida cities and counties that use the cameras.
In all, more than $1 million in fines were paid by people accused of running red-lights in Sarasota during the first six months of this year. In Bradenton, the city's cameras generated $1.2 million in fines during the 12-month period that ended June 30, records show.
In Sarasota, nearly 1,500 drivers were ticketed and paid fines in June, putting the city ahead of Orlando, Tallahassee and Fort Lauderdale in collections even though those cities have at least three times the population.
Despite a push by opponents to repeal the 2010 law that approved the cameras, their use continues to grow in popularity among Florida cities and counties. Forty-eight municipalities started using them in the first year they were allowed, and another 23 added them in the past year, including Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Boca Raton.
Bradenton was an early adopter of the cameras, collecting its first ticket revenues in September 2010, two months after the law went into effect.
Etienne Pracht, a University of South Florida professor who is a critic of the cameras, wonders why the number of tickets issued keeps going up when these cameras were supposed to curtail red-light running.
"These things were installed as a means to prevent red-light running, but looking at the numbers, if it's going up, you have to ask the question. 'Is it working?'" he asked.
Use of the cameras was approved by the Legislature in 2010 with the passage of the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program, named after a Bradenton man killed by a red-light runner in 2003. Tickets are mailed to offenders once the violation is confirmed by authorities.
The tickets are $158 each, with $83 of that going to the state, mainly to its general fund. The remaining $75 goes to the local government that writes the ticket. The camera vendor receives a flat per-camera fee each month.
Adding together all 71 cities and counties that use the cameras, there were 615,000 tickets issued in Florida during the 12-month period that ended June 30. That is a 160 percent increase over the number of tickets issued during the previous year.
Whether the ticketing is improving road safety is disputed by some. Some studies say the cameras cut down on accidents — particularly deadly T-bone accidents at intersections. But other studies have shown the cameras increase the number of rear-end collisions as drivers screech to a stop when they realize they are at an intersection with cameras.
Cities and counties with cameras must make their first official reports on the results, including the impact on public safety, by Oct. 1. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will compile all those reports into one that it will present to the governor by year's end.
This year, a trio of University of South Florida professors, including Pracht, wrote a scathing analysis of an insurance group study reporting that cities with red-light camera programs had fewer red-light running fatalities than cities that did not use the cameras.
Among the problems with that study was that two of the cities not using the cameras had zero fatalities to begin with, so they could not have had a reduction.
Removing some of those biases from that study, the USF professors found that cities that used the cameras had 25 percent more fatalities than cities that did not use them.
Much of the big increase in ticketing in Florida occurred because of a surge in the number of cities and counties using the cameras.
And some of the new players are among the most active ticketers. Boca Raton, which just started collecting red-light fines in May, collected on 2,600 tickets in June, the third-highest total in the state.
Miami and Tampa did the most ticketing in June. Boca Raton was third and Apopka, with a population of only 42,000, was fourth.
Part of the reason for the surprisingly high number of tickets issued in Sarasota is that courts are upholding the tickets in some jurisdictions, but are prone to overturn them in others, said Sarasota attorney David Haenel.
"There's been major challenges, successful challenges, especially against the cities of Winter Park and Orlando," he said.
Haenel says that he has fought tickets issues in Sarasota, but, as of yet, none successfully.

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