When South Florida cities began installing red-light cameras several years ago, most expected a revenue bump along with increased intersection safety.
But while most studies show few crashes at intersections with red-light cameras, many cities haven’t seen the money they expected, and at least one is several thousand dollars in the hole.
Now, some cities plan to use new changes in Florida’s red-light camera laws to wring more money out of strapped camera programs.
The new legislation, which went into effect July 1, requires municipalities with the cameras to set up local hearing boards for people who get violation notices and want to fight them. It gives drivers more time to appeal, and doesn’t force them to wait until after payment is due and their $158 notice of violation becomes a $264 Uniform Traffic Citation in order to contest it.
But the new regulations also let cities collect up to an extra $250 in administrative fees from people who fight their citation and lose — bringing the total cost of their ticket as high as $408 — and some cities are counting on that money.
The possibility of challenging a ticket and losing is keeping some drivers from even trying.
At a red-light camera citation hearing at the Broward County South Regional Courthouse Thursday, a crowd of drivers with red-light camera citations thinned as drivers took a last-minute deal offered by Traffic Hearing Officer Ellen Tilles: they could pay $190 and not fight their citations, or they could fight them and risk paying $263 if they lost.
Few rejected the $190 deal.
“I’m just going to pay it off,” said Hollywood resident Nathaly Simprevil, 23.
Simprevil said she wasn’t driving her car the day it was cited, but fighting the citation wasn’t worth risking an extra $73.
Some traffic lawyers also don’t like the idea of each city holding its own traffic hearing board, saying that as citation revenues drop, cities will have an incentive to rule against drivers.
After all, the hearing officer judging the case would be paid by the city that issued the citation, said attorney Ted Hollander, of the Miami-based Ticket Clinic law firm.
“That’s a real conflict of interest,” he said.
And because courtroom rules of evidence won’t apply in the administrative hearings, said Hollander, traffic attorneys won’t be able to argue that a camera’s footage wasn’t obtained or handled properly and shouldn’t be admitted as evidence, a common tactic they’ve used in the past to get red-light camera cases dismissed.
It might be easier for a driver to appeal a citation under the new rules, he said, but it will be harder for them to win.
It’s not only the ticketed drivers who are paying out big money. Administering the program can be costly to the municipalities.
Overall, Pembroke Pines has lost more money than it has made.
The city started its red-light camera program in 2010, and after paying Arizona-based camera company American Traffic Solutions to install the cameras, made a total of about $345,400 in citation revenue in the years since. But all of that money, and more, disappeared into wages for police officers who reviewed the cameras’ footage and lawyers who had to fight drivers in court, leaving the city with an actual deficit of about $432,000, said Pembroke Pines Police spokeswoman Katrina Fox.