Manatee County RLC revenue comes mostly from “generally safe” rolling right turns

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As the debate over Red Light Cameras continues, changes in Manatee County policy of ticketing “rolling right turns” could result in thousands of drivers facing $158 fines they would not have received in other parts of Tampa Bay.

As of June 2013, Red Light Camera (RLC) in Manatee County was barely producing the revenue to cover the program’s costs.

At the time, a county spokesperson told 10 Investigates, “Manatee’s Red Light Cameras are intended to change behaviors and not to generate revenue.”

“After 8 or 9 months since installation,” he added, “the County has received a total of about $600 (after expenses).”

On July 1, after state law required the increased involvement by sheriff’s offices in the automated issuance of tickets, Manatee County started coming down hard on “rolling right” citations.

The result was a fourfold increase RLC revenue.

Eight months after the switch, Manatee County’s eight RLC intersections generated more than $4 million revenue, with around $2 million going to the county.

The aggressive move by Manatee County to ticket slow “rolling right” maneuvers, considered generally safe by traffic engineers, is unique in the Tampa Bay region. Many local communities offer some degree of leniency on violators.

The 2010 Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, which opened the door for standardized use of RLCs across Florida, stipulates officers should not ticket drivers when they make rolling right turns in a manner that is “careful and prudent.”

Supporters of the act maintain they did not want municipalities placing profits over safety.

Nevertheless, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) has cited any driver caught approaching a red light at more than 12 miles per hour, even where there are no pedestrians of other traffic present.

To avoid a ticket, drivers must come to a full stop before proceeding. Other local agencies have a higher speed threshold, and they reject a majority of potential “rolling right” violations when they appear “safe and prudent.”

Although the MCSO rejects over half of would-be RLC violations caught on-camera, but a recent appeals hearing discovered that most of the county’s tickets now go to the drivers making those slow, rolling right turns. Data shows that nearly 75% of current citations in Manatee County’s RLC program are for “rolling rights.”

MCSO did not tell WTSP/10 Investigates an exact number of $158 tickets issued after drivers were captured on-camera rolling through right turns on red.  However, deputies warn both residents and visitors that they should know the rules.

“Most of the states I know of,” said traffic Sergeant Mike Kenyon to WTSP, “The right hand turns (on red) are all the same – ‘stop.'”

Kenyon recognizes that the reason for different enforcement between communities is that there is no statewide standardization, and efforts to address right turn tickets legislatively have suffered from industry lobbying.

“That’s not there right now,” Kenyon said of standardization of rolling right turn laws.  “There’s nothing that says that. All I have to go by is the video, my own judgment, and what I consider ‘safe & prudent.'”

WTSP/10 Investigates reviewed hundreds of RLC violations last year, taking dozens of measurements at monitored local intersections.  Speeds reported by camera vendors was higher each time than the actual speed of the vehicle when crossing the stop bar.

Camera companies record the vehicle’s speed not at the actual intersection, but at the approach of the intersection. Often, vehicles must slow down to make a right turn on red.

According to Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube says any driver making a right turn on red at more than 12 miles per hour was not “safe and prudent.” He also admitted to 10 News that he was not aware of the actual position of the speed sensors.

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Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.