RED LIGHT CAMERAS
COLLIER COUNTY — A bill that would authorize the use of cameras to ticket red-light runners on Florida roads is one important signature away from becoming law.
On Tuesday, the Florida Senate sent a bill to Gov. Charlie Crist on a 30-7 vote that would authorize use of the controversial cameras to ticket violators. But some Collier County commissioners say that if the law is passed, it could change their already tepid support for the 19 cameras in use on county roads.
The bill (HB 325), which passed Friday in the House, would fine the owner of a vehicle caught on camera running a red light $158, but would not add points to the owner’s record and would prevent insurance companies from increasing premiums for violations. It would also pre-empt already-established local restrictions and fine structures, Collier County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow said.
“It changes how you ticket it. It changes how much the tickets are. It changes a lot,” Klatzkow said.
When Collier’s cameras were first installed about a year ago, the fine for a first-time citation was $125. In October, in part because of the high number of citations being issued to people rolling through right turns on red, commissioners voted to reduce a first-time citation to $62.50.
The idea was to cover costs while still educating the guilty driver.
“We reduced it because we were only putting the cameras in for safety purposes. We did not want to make it a cash cow,” said Commissioner Donna Fiala, who has generally supported the cameras in the past, but has expressed concern over the high number of right-on-red citations.
“The state is putting them in because they need a cash cow, not for safety purposes,” Fiala said. “That changes my whole outlook. It’s all about money for them.”
Commissioner Jim Coletta voted against the cameras when they were first approved in Collier County in 2008, but has since expressed some support for them because he believes they have changed driving behavior for the better. When asked Tuesday if the Senate’s vote and the possibility of an increased fine would change his opinion, he said “Yes it does.”
“It’s now a money generator in addition to an enforcement one,” said Coletta, who would like to see the issue placed on an upcoming ballot so the public could give commissioners guidance.
Supporters of the bill — named in memory of Mark Wandall, a 30-year-old man killed by a red-light runner in Bradenton in 2003 — say safety is, in fact, the priority.
“The main reason for this bill is to make our roads safer,” Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, said. “It’s going to make a difference in a very positive way to the people of Florida.”
Similar attempts have been rejected in the past five years.
“It’s been no easy task,” added a relieved Altman, who guided the measure though the Senate. “Our next job is to get the information the governor needs so he can make a good decision.”
Crist has generally supported the use of red-light cameras in the past, said Sterling Ivey, his press secretary.
Klatzkow said he will have to dissect the bill to see exactly what it means for the county. He will then bring it to the commissioners “as quickly as possible” for direction, and to see if they want to continue with the program.
Klatzkow also said he is baffled by a “quirky paragraph” in the bill about right turns on red, and questions whether or not the bill disallows citations for many right-on red violations.
“A notice of violation and a traffic citation may not be issued for failure to stop at a red light if the driver is making a right-hand turn in a careful and prudent manner at an intersection where right-hand turns are permissible,” the bill reads.
“We’re going to have to take a careful look at this,” Klatzkow said.
Commissioner Fred Coyle, one of the staunchest supporters of Collier’s red-light cameras, said that if the bill becomes law it would end, once and for all, questions about their legality. As long as drivers keep running red lights, Coyle said he suspects Collier’s red-light camera program will be expanded.
“I think it will cost the traffic violators a lot more money,” he said. “I don’t know that it will change anything the county government does.”
Motorists who ignored traffic signals in Florida were blamed for 76 deaths and injuries to 5,607 people in 2008, according to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
State economists estimate the state will receive more than $29 million in the first year and nearly $95 million in the 2013-14 budget year. Local governments are expected to receive $10 million in the first year and nearly $66 million in 2013-14.
Local governments would get $75 of the $158 fine and the state would get the remainder. Ten dollars of the state’s share would go to health care and $3 to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis for brain and spinal cord research.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Connect with Ryan Mills at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ryan-mills/