COLLIER COUNTY — It took 88 years, but Harriet Prior finally received her first ticket.
Prior, a widow from North Naples, was one of the first Collier County residents to receive a citation in the mail from the new red-light running cameras at the intersection of Pine Ridge Road and Airport-Pulling Road.
“It’s probably the first ticket I ever had,” Prior said.
But Prior does not dispute that she ran the light in early June — the photo of her car in the intersection, which was attached to her $125 citation, erased all doubts.
“I think I was just following this other car,” Prior said. “I certainly looked up and probably saw it yellow, but in the meantime it must have turned red.”
The cameras in the eastbound and westbound lanes of Pine Ridge Road at the intersection with Airport-Pulling Road have been in place for just over three months. While officials say it’s far too early to say if they have been successful in changing driving habits and making Collier roads safer, there have been no red flags so far.
“They’ve been working exactly the way they were designed to operate,” said Sgt. Chris Gonzalez of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s traffic unit.
In fact, county officials recently announced that 10 more cameras should be in place at seven more intersections by the end of the month.
The cameras at the Pine Ridge and Airport intersection were flipped on in early April. For the first two months, no tickets were issued, only warnings — 659 warnings until May 31, to be exact, county spokesman John Torre said in an e-mail.
From May 31 to July 6, deputies issued 256 citations from the cameras, and did not approve 106.
One of four trained Collier deputies, including Gonzalez, reviews each violation flagged by the cameras. If the violation is questionable, deputies say they will not issue the citation.
“Everything that I’ve seen has been a violation,” Gonzalez said. “However, not every one that we’ve seen has been issued a citation.
“If it’s not something that we would write that citation for if we were sitting there observing it, we’re not writing it now,” he said.
As of July 10, no one has contested any of the citations initiated by the cameras, Torre said.
Maria Cilibrasi, 51, wanted to but eventually decided against it. The East Naples resident recently received and paid a red-light running citation caught on the cameras in early June, though she doesn’t believe she ran the light while making a right turn on red from Pine Ridge Road.
Along with the citation, violators get a personal identification number so they can view the images and video of their violation online.
“I was looking at the picture on the computer. I was able to pull it up,” Cilibrasi said. “In slow motion you can see that I’m at the light stopped. I briefly stopped, but I stopped. Then I took a right and I received a ticket.”
Anyone who contests a citation and is subsequently found guilty will be charged an additional $50 fee to cover operational costs, officials said. That was enough to prevent Cilibrasi’s challenge.
“It’s not pleasant to get a ticket regardless of which situation you’re in,” Cilibrasi said. “But what are you going to do?”
Collier County is just a few months into a three-year contract with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS), which is providing the cameras at no cost. In exchange, ATS gets a portion of each citation issued: $47.50 from each of the first 89 citations per month, $27.50 from the next 60, and $17.50 from the rest. The remainder goes into the county’s general fund.
Gene Calvert, principle project manager for Collier County’s Transportation Services Division, said the county is contracted to have at least 24 red-light running cameras in place by February 2011.
“We may have more depending on how it goes and how effective these are,” Calvert said. The effectiveness of the cameras will be determined as part of an annual review, most likely starting no earlier than next summer.
Despite some critics’ contentions, the main purpose of the cameras is not to raise money for the county, Calvert said.
“Our ultimate goal is to make those intersections safer, to reduce the number of crashes,” he said.
Some critics of the controversial cameras have expressed concern that the cameras will actually increase the number of rear-end accidents, as drivers stop abruptly to avoid getting a ticket. Gonzalez said he’s seen no evidence of an increase so far.
The cameras, which are on 24 hours a day, allow deputies to focus on other intersections and on other enforcement efforts, he said.
“Of course, it’s our desire that the camera system does increase traffic safety, in particular red-light running,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s a great thing. It’s a preventative measure. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for the drivers to be proactive to the in their obedience to the traffic laws.”
Stefani Cohen, 59, of North Naples, received and paid a red-light running citation initiated by the cameras, and said she’s conflicted about them. She said she wishes deputies would spend less time writing tickets and more time solving crimes, although she does see the red-light runners from time to time and understands its a dangerous habit.
“On one hand I understand them,” she said. “But on the other hand, I’m not crazy about big brother.”
Prior is equally torn. The cameras bug her, she said, because she got caught, but if they make the roads safer, she supports them.
“From now on, honey,” she said, “I’m going to have to look for those cameras.”