RED LIGHT CAMERAS
NAPLES — The number of citations generated by Collier County’s red-light camera program every month continued its downward trend throughout the summer after county commissioners amended the program in June, eliminating right-on-red citations, to bring it into compliance with a new state law.
The cameras generated 710 approved citations in June, 689 in July and 671 in August, the lowest number since July 2009, when the only two cameras in operation issued 212 citations. There now are cameras at 19 approaches across the county.
“I would like to believe they are going down because we’re having compliance,” said Sgt. Chris Gonzalez of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s traffic unit. “That’s what we’re shooting for.”
But Collier County Commissioner Fred Coyle, a longtime supporter of the cameras, said it’s premature to discuss how the cameras have changed driving habits. With fewer drivers on Southwest Florida roads in the summer, you would expect fewer citations in July and August, he said.
The county will need several years of historical data before the officials can determine, definitely, how effective the program has been, said Coyle, who claims to be “way beyond traffic light issues.”
“It takes awhile for trends of that nature to be established and analyzed,” he said.
Because of the elimination of right-on-reds — which had constituted close to 90 percent of all citations issued by the program — cameras at some approaches are issuing only a marginal number of citations every month. For instance, the eastbound camera at Golden Gate Parkway and Collier Boulevard only issued six citations in July and 14 in August, while the eastbound camera at Pine Ridge Road and U.S. 41 North only issued five citations in July and two in August.
“There are no plans at this point to move any of the red-light camera equipment,” Collier County transportation spokeswoman Connie Deane said.
The number of citations issued by the cameras per month peaked at 5,401 in April, but dropped sharply to 2,110 in May. That’s because in mid-May Collier County sheriff’s deputies cut back on the number of right-on-red citations they were approving.
The cutback was in response to a new state law that approved the use of the cameras on state roads, but didn’t allow the cameras to issue citations for right turns made in a “careful and prudent manner.”
At the end of May, Collier commissioners eliminated right-on-red citations.
“We haven’t had much of any complaints about anything anymore, because I think all people feel that we probably needed cameras on the red lights for straight through and turning left,” Commissioner Donna Fiala said.
By the numbers
Red-light camera citations issued per month
May 2009 - 255
June 2009 - 312
July 2009 - 212
August 2009 - 3,742
September 2009 - 2,239
October 2009 - 3,464
November 2009 - 4,637
December 2009 - 4,220
January 2010 - 2,946
February 2010 - 1,854
March 2010 - 2,787
April 2010 - 5,401
May 2010 - 2,110
June 2010 - 710
July 2010 - 689
August 2010 - 671
The state law, which went into effect July 1, also changed how camera vendors can be paid, forbidding them from profiting on a per-citation basis. In late June, the county amended its contract with its camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions.
Instead of the county paying ATS to manage the program, ATS now pays the county $8,250 per month — just enough for the county to cover administrative costs — to run its program in Collier.
The now $158 citations are split between the vendor and the state, with ATS, which is on a month-to-month contract, getting $75 per citation and assuming the risk should the number of approved citations not cover its operating costs.
However, either side can pull out with 30 days notice.
“ATS is good with the contract, and feels strongly that the program is making a meaningful contribution to road safety in Collier County,” ATS spokeswoman Kate Coulson said in an e-mail.
Despite the changes to the contract, Gonzalez said he believes the program is still effective in prompting discussions about stopping at red lights and changing driving behavior. However, he believes eliminating the right-on-red citations diminishes its effectiveness somewhat, and gives drivers mixed messages.
Even though the cameras can no longer issue right-on-red citations, by law drivers still must stop before turning right.
“We’re basically talking about two separate issues, apples and oranges,” Gonzalez said. “It’s kind of confusing to the average person when we’re talking about the red-light (camera) program versus a uniformed deputy stopping you for that violation.”
One unintended consequence of the new state law and modified county program is confusion at the Collier County courthouse, Collier County Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock said.
Under the new law, citations issued by the cameras that aren’t paid within 30 days become uniform traffic citations adjudicated by the court. There has been confusion and complications establishing a system to electronically transfer the citations from ATS to the court system.
“The system that was established by the statute is a very cumbersome system,” Brock said. “It’s a complicated system to implement. It required a great deal of up-front work and no resources to pay for it.
“It appears to me that the Legislature saw dollar signs and didn’t give a lot of thought to the impact on others.”
The first red-light cameras were installed at the intersection of Pine Ridge Road and Airport-Pulling Road in April 2009. Since then they have generated more than 36,000 citations.