Florida Manipulating Enforcement Revenues By Tricking Motorists Into Red Light Camera Fines

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A set of traffic lights turn amber with a traffic camera watching.

Florida may be known as a tax-friendly State, but a damning report this week reveals leaders are finding innovative and crooked ways to surreptitiously nickel-and-dime citizens in order to enrich public coffers.

Local TV news investigations are often vapid attacks on straw men, publicity stunts that bear no evidence of real investigation or service to the community. But not this investigative report by Tampa TV station WTSP-10. Reporter Noah Pransky took on the State of Florida and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), looking into why FDOT implemented a subtle policy change — without telling anyone — that shortens the length of the yellow portion of the traffic light cycle in traffic signals statewide.

In Florida, citations for running red lights cost $158 a pop, with $70 of each ticket going straight to the State General Fund.

About 70 communities in Florida currently use surveillance cameras at traffic signal-controlled intersections as a way to ticket motorists who, either deliberately or inadvertently, don’t make it out of an intersection before the light turns red. Camera enforcement in Florida last year produced more than $100 million in revenue.

But, following FDOT’s recent removal of language in the State engineering guide that mandates yellow lights be timed to accommodate either the posted speed limit or the actual speed 85 percent of motorists are traveling — “whichever is greater” — the revenues are certain to jump dramatically:

FDOT’s change in language may have been subtle, but the effects were quite significant. The removal of three little words meant the reduction of yellow light intervals of up to a second, meaning drastically more citations for drivers. A 10 News analysis indicates the rule change is likely costing Florida drivers millions of dollars a year.

Currently, 24 States employ some form of camera enforcement to ticket motorists either for speeding, for running red lights or, in 13 States and Washington, D.C., for both.

A year ago, a Florida judge ruled that red light cameras are unConstitutional. But the losing parties (a number of cities in Pasco County) in that case are appealing the decision, and the cameras have continued to proliferate unchecked.

Almost all the traffic cameras in the United States aren’t even owned by the municipalities and States that profit from their use; they’re owned by private companies that, of course, also profit, since the government gives them a cut of each traffic fine. “It’s a private business that has a vested financial interest in making sure you are portrayed as doing something illegal,” notes one Albuquerque-based citizen advocate.

Conservatives in some State legislatures have introduced bills that aim to ban traffic cameras, saying they’re “insidious” infringements on citizens’ freedom and actually create more fender benders as wary, brake-happy drivers attempt to make last-second stops.

“Red light cameras are a for-profit business between cities and camera companies and the state,” James Walker, of the National Motorists Association, told Pransky. “The (FDOT rule-change) was done, I believe, deliberately in order that more tickets would be given with yellows set deliberately too short.”

The National Motorists Association lists reasons why traffic cameras are ineffective and unConstitutional at its website. Car and Driver also has an article here that, although outdated, features many detailed pictures of various types of traffic cameras, just in case you’d like to get an idea of what to watch out for the next time you’re out on the road.

To give yourself some protection from traffic light cameras, special license plate covers and spray-on coatings that defeat the radar cameras are available. These can be found by using an online search engine. Some companies that sell the covers or sprays include: OnTrack Automotive Accessories (www.ontrackcorp.com), PhotoBlocker Spray
(www.phantomplate.com) and Veil (www.laserveil.com).

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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  • Iman Athole

    We no longer have a government, we have only a State that is willing to do anything it can to make all citizens criminals and to take as much of their money that they possibly can… even if illegal and unconstitutional.
    Blocking or spraying your plates will only make you more of a criminal and cost you more. The State wants to keep the boot on your neck and their hands in your pockets….But this would never happen in Amerika!

  • Average_Joe56

    I happen to live in Hernando County . Two years ago we had countywide Red Light Cameras, people started avoiding areas with the cameras. As a result businesses began losing business and started a campaign to get rid of the cameras…it worked and the cameras were removed from the county. Last year, the City of Brooksville (county seat) decided to bring back the cameras to the city and did so, starting about 5-6 months ago. They went out and added 17 new cameras and were rolling in the dough, until the county filed suit against the city….it seems that at least five (possibly more) of the cameras were in intersections owned by the county and not by the city. All of those cameras had to be removed and anyone who got a ticket in those intersections will have their convictions overturned and fines refunded. Sometimes justice does prevail.
    Unfortunately, the cameras still exist within the city limits and yes, they are very short indeed and there have been a few fender benders as a result as well as the wonderful tickets (not me personally). But hey, they are keeping us safer…it’s for our own good and no…there is no financial incentive for this.
    We’re from the government, We’re here to help! BTW, what’s in your wallet?

  • Mr Diesel

    What idiot would think a spray on anything would defeat RADAR? Nothing you can do to your car will defeat RADAR short of setting up a high-power RADAR jamming device on it. It was all proved as BS on Mythbusters and you can watch the segment online.

    It’s sort of like bug repelling devices that plug into a wall outlet for your home. They don’t work either………

    • dan

      i’m sure that you’re confused between Radar (speed)and Photo-optic
      scanning devices(identification)… while you are quite correct about RADAR (unless you have a stealth car) making your plates unreadable is a different technological objective….I would think the same techniques used for defeating facial recognition scans would be applicable .

  • aldersonjanice@yahoo.com

    I have said it before and I will say it again, florida,
    is the land of the green and the greed.

  • Aloysious Farquart

    I’d show those bastards by not running red lights, like my 83 year old mother.

    I’d even stop behind the stop bar, like my 83 year old mother.

    I guess those solutions are out of the question, for those who cannot drive as well as my 83 year old mother.

    • Rick Keller

      Are you as demented and lost as your 83 year old mother? Does your 83 year old mother stop behind the stop bar even when the light is green? Are you capable of understanding the literature that you read? Do you work for these private companies that profit from these cameras? I’m just trying to get to the root of your stupidity.

      • Aloysious Farquart

        No, she approaches green signals expecting them to turn red… she’s been around a long time, says she’s seen it happen before.

        Neither she nor I fear any traffic enforcement. What do you suppose you might be doing wrong…?

  • rocketride

    My GPS unit has a map of the damn things.

  • Tom

    I got two of these taxes I mean tickets in miami. I hired a ticket lawyer, Jason diamond and he got them tossed out. I am not a fan of lawyers but at least they are doing good work.