City catches 377 drivers with red light traffic cameras; rush on in Broward County to install more

p-pines-red-light-cams(SUN SENTINAL)   A picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes, a $125 fine.

Pembroke Pines two months ago became the first city in Broward County to use traffic cameras to fine drivers who run red lights.

From March 1 through May 20, it caught 377 drivers running the light at Pines Boulevard and 129th Avenue. A total of 176 people so far have paid their tickets, generating an estimated $12,941 for the city and about $7,200 for the contractor that collects fees for providing the cameras.

“We’re happy that it’s generating fines,” said Pembroke Pines Police Chief Dan Giustino. “It is showing that it’s effective.”

In the next few months, drivers can expect to see five more cameras in the city, as well as cameras inHallandale Beach and Hollywood. Sunrise has approved the cameras but has not settled on a date to install them. Although Margate and Tamarac okayed their use, officials are not certain they will post them.Fort Lauderdale has given tentative approval to a plan, and will take a final vote June 2. And another 12 Broward municipalities are poised to vote on the option or are researching it.

Giustino and surveillance companies say the cameras are intended to prevent crashes. But it is difficult to confirm if that happened because Pembroke Pines hasn’t compiled a report on accident rates since the camera was first installed early last year and drivers were issued only warnings.

University of South Florida study says the cameras cause accidents because drivers who hit the brakes can be rear-ended by those trying to beat the light.

Albert Barrett, 71, who lives in Margate, questions the use of such cameras.

“I don’t think commissioners should be making traffic rules” he said. “There’s other answers.”

Have there been problems with the cameras?

Pembroke Pines police say the only glitch so far is that occasionally they can’t discern license plate numbers, in which case motorists aren’t fined. The city has not yet received any complaints but four drivers have contested their tickets. However, inAventura, a resident filed a lawsuit in February claiming traffic cameras were illegal under state law. The case is pending in 11th Judicial Circuit Court.

How do the cameras work?

They snap a photo of license plate numbers, and car owners receive a violation notice–similar to a code violation–via mail. The notice can carry a fine, but the driving record of the owner is unaffected. The camera systems cost about $50,000 per intersection and the contractors that provide them are paid over time with a cut from each fine.

What if a driver refuses to pay?

They are referred to a collections agency, which could report them to a credit bureau if the fine is ignored. Drivers who wish to contest their tickets must mail in a stub within 21 days, and then appear at a special magistrate hearing at City Hall on an appointed date. Drivers found guilty are subject to an administrative hearing fee of up to $50, in addition to the fine, which is generally $125.

What are acceptable reasons to contest a citation?

Vehicle owners who weren’t driving must show proof they were not responsible. For example, if the car was stolen, a copy of the police report must be provided. If a relative borrowed the car, owners must prove they had not granted permission.

Traffic signal is in disrepair.

Driver who is cited would have crashed into another car or would have been hit by someone else if they didn’t run the light.

How will drivers know when new cameras are posted?

Signs warn drivers that the intersections are “photo enforced.”

How many local municipalities are installing red light cameras?

At least 26 statewide. Municipalities can only install them within their boundaries, and not on state-owned property. Cities researching the possibility of cameras or poised to vote on them include Coral SpringsDania Beach, Davie, Deerfield Beach, Lauderdale Lakes, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Lighthouse Point, Miramar, Oakland Park, Pembroke Park, Plantation and Pompano Beach.

Why are local governments installing the cameras?

The cameras promise to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. While there is an expectation that they will help prevent accidents, that benefit is unclear.

What do traffic attorneys say?

Some worry that drivers’ due process rights are in jeopardy. “Municipalities are generating revenue at the expense of due process,” said David Pakula, a traffic attorney based in Pembroke Pines, and a former traffic magistrate in Broward County.

“It’s allowing the municipality to impose fines on people based on a picture of a car.” Attorneys may be reluctant to take on such cases because the fee for handling them may not be worth their time, Pakula said.

He also questioned how impartial the special magistrates will be given that cities like Pembroke Pines are using contractors not overseen by an independent judiciary.

Jennifer Gollan can be reached at jgollan@sunsentinel.com or 954-385-7920.

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/broward/sfl-red-light-camera-052209,0,5802969.story

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