Florida Governor Crist, Are You Paying Attention?

By Gary Biller, NMA Executive Director

Former Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist ruled that using red-light ticket cameras on state roads was illegal. Current Governor Crist just signed a bill into law reversing his prior position. It is too bad that the governor didn’t listen more to his attorney general alter ego, particularly in light of an investigative report by Charles Elmore, a staff writer with the Palm Beach Post.

In the 70 days after February 21, 2010, the date when the city of West Palm Beach installed red-light ticket cameras at three intersections, traffic accidents increased from prior levels and so did revenue generation for both the city and state. Elmore found that in March 2010, the first full month of ticket camera operation, 2675 photo tickets were issued at $125 each, for total revenue of $334,375. The state law signed by Crist will increase the cost of each citation to $158 as of July 1, 2010, and the state will keep $70 to $100 of each fine. That is almost certainly the reason that the answer to the question posed in the title of this piece is “yes.”

A “yes” answer would also mean that Gov. Crist ignored the results of multiple studies over several years that show accident rates increasing at intersections equipped with photo enforcement. The West Palm Beach statistics simply are another case in point.

The most telling comment in Elmore’s report is the quote attributed to West Palm Beach Traffic Division Director Dan Weisburg. “If a cop saw someone run a red light and gave them a ticket, no one would bat an eye,” he said. “Why is the camera a big deal?”

Let us enumerate some of the ways, Mr. Weisburg.

  1. A police officer witnessing an alleged violation uses observation to take into account the circumstances surrounding the incident, and can also use discretion as warranted. Ticket cameras are silent sentinels that provide sketchy views and leave everything to interpretation.
  2. An officer making a traffic stop can make a positive identification of the driver. Not so with ticket cameras. Photo tickets are sent to the registered owner of the vehicle, regardless of who was driving at the time of the incident, under the assumption that the owner is guilty until proven otherwise.
  3. An actual traffic stop allows the driver to interact with the officer, not only providing perspective to the situation, but also making the driver aware that he is even being charged with a violation. Photo tickets arrive in the mail a few weeks after the alleged incident, making it difficult to recall all of the circumstances, thereby impeding the ability to prepare a ticket defense. In some cases, the mailed ticket does not reach the intended party, but that party is still responsible for the consequences of a non-response, up to and including increased fines and/or a suspended license.
  4. A ticketing officer can be questioned in court, affording the defendant an opportunity to explore the facts of the case in front of a judge and/or jury. Ticket camera evidence can only be taken at face value by the court.

These reasons, and others, fall under that pesky “right to due process” most people find essential when dealing with the justice system.

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