Brandes’ red-light camera amendment spares costs of appeal, while improving upon important safety law

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The passage of a 226 page omnibus transportation, which cleared the Florida Senate unanimously and the House with a vote of 114-1, includes provisions intended to remedy various administrative problems with red-light camera ticketing.

Red-light cameras have been operating in Florida since 2010 but the original law faced significant problems.  Despite some voicing concern that the changes made this year could raise costs for drivers, in reality the measure will do just the opposite. 

The red-light camera amendment, filed by Senator Jeff Brandes, provides a means of appealing such tickets in a way that could spare drivers significant costs in the appeals process by providing more time under which to appeal or pay up and capping the administrative costs associated with an appeal.

Specifically, drivers will now be able to challenge a red-light camera ticket at the administrative level while it is still at the lower Notice of Violation rate of $158, instead of being required to wait until it becomes a more expensive $264 Uniform Traffic Citation.

Further, municipal and county appeal officers are prohibited from charging excessive costs in the event that  the driver is found responsible, and hearing officers must justify all costs that they assess.  Once again, this differs from current law in a way that errs on the side of the driver.

Finally, under the Brandes amendment, drivers will have double as much time to decide whether or not to pay the ticket or challenge it through an appeal, and are given the ability to indicate if another person was driving the car. Under current law, drivers are given 30 days in which to decide if they pay or appeal, which is not enough time for many — particularly for tourists in rental cars, who are notified of the ticket until after the window for appeal has passed. The Brandes amendment provides 60 days, and provides a process for car owners to name which driver was operating the car at the time of the ticket.

The bill, HB 7125, also included changes in which cities are banned from ticketing drivers who failed to come to a complete stop until after the stop line while turning right on red.

The main critique of the bill regards which category of public employee gets to review red-light camera appeals.  The 2013 changes do not specify who is to handle appeals, but allows cities and counties to use their own code enforcement boards or to contract these responsibilities out to courts or judges. Some fear that if hearing officers are permitted to decide appeals they have incentive to charge the maximum fines. 

Yet in reality, the process under the 2013 law is the same as is followed in various other administrative or municipal contexts, such as with code enforcement boards.

According to a Tampa Tribune story, St. Pete transportation director Joseph Kubicki said, “We’re happy with the changes in the law. We think they made some common sense changes.”

And in the words of Clerk of Court Ken Burke, also via the Trib, “That’s a step big time in the right direction.”

Of course the most important question is whether red-light cameras successfully deter drivers from running red light, which together with running stop signs is the most common type of crass, resulting in about 120,000 injuries and deaths every year, including those of bicyclists and pedestrians.

A 2012 telephone survey by AAA found that 92 percent of drivers said it is unacceptable to run a red light if it is possible to stop safely, however 38 percent admitted they had done so in the past month.  This is unsurprising, considering that a red light is run about every 20 minutes at each intersection.

Significant reductions in red light violations at camera intersections have been thoroughly noted, making the Brandes amendment an important one to pass, not only for the sake of reducing costs of appeal for drivers who feel they were not in the wrong, but also for the sake of the countless lives that will be spared injury or worse.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.