Red-light Cameras: a Violation of Florida Law?

Many cities in South Florida have followed a practice that the city of Pembroke Pines put in place last year: installing a red-light camera. However, since then, the question has been raised as to whether this practice conflicts with Florida state law. Several lawsuits have been filed in cities such as Aventura and Miami, with varied results.

The goal of the red-light camera is simple: to monitor the streets of our cities so as to prevent auto accidents and deter drivers from running red lights. The camera takes a photo of the vehicle before it reaches the intersection and after it passes. Another camera takes a 12-second video of the vehicle, which allows police to view the scene and assess whether the violation was necessary and determine whether or not to issue a ticket. Later, drivers can see the evidence online for themselves.

There is also a great financial incentive. Tthe Miami Herald reported that tickets in Pembroke Pines are $125, with American Traffic Solutions, the vendor, taking about $17.50 to $47.50, and the city keeping the rest. One camera in Pembroke Pines, Pines Blvd. and Southwest 129th Ave., has issued more than $100,000 since March. Aventura’s five cameras have brought in almost $1 million, and Fort Lauderdale’s proposed cameras hope to bring $1.8 million.

While proponents of the cameras stress the importance of safety for drivers, while making a few extra dollars amid harsh economic times, critics raise concerns about their due-process rights. In Florida, traffic laws must be uniform across the state. Having varied city camera laws would be a violation of state law. Furthermore, critics raise concerns as to an owner being cited for a violation, rather than the actual driver of the vehicle.

Legislation has been proposed for cameras in the past, but has not passed due to legal concerns. Last year, Legislation tried to legalize the cameras but failed. In 2005, then-Attorney General Charlie Christ noted that local governments had the right to set up cameras, but further added that state law would need to be changed for cities to issue tickets with red light cameras.

To get around state law concerns, cities made running a red light a code violation, and placed the cameras on parts of the city that are not controlled by the state. However, this has not convinced drivers, and many violators have taken legal action against the cities.

This issue brings two very important concerns: protection of our safety vs. protection of our rights. Both sides would agree that driver safety is of the utmost concern. Driver saftey is an issue that we have addressed numerous times in previous blogs. But at this juncture, it seems that the heart of the matter seems to lie in our Cities placing cameras on non-state land and citing code violations. The report illustrates that citizens will not stand for this and continue to take action in the courts for violation of their rights. Ultimately, resolution will be found when the issue is put to a vote on whether Florida law should be modified to allow cities to use red-light cameras.