Hollywood could give red-light cameras a green light

Nov 19, 2008

Hollywood could join a growing list of South Florida cities using cameras to crack down on red-light runners.


Miami Herald–November 19, 2008

While Big Brother privacy concerns have stalled statewide laws sanctioning traffic-light cameras, Broward’s third-largest city is preparing to join a growing number of governments green-lighting local cameras aimed at red-light runners.

Hollywood city commissioners are set Wednesday to tentatively endorse a network of cameras that would allow police to fine violators $125 for ignoring red lights at busy intersections. The move would follow the lead of other Florida cities and counties looking to increase safety — and boost ticket revenue.

Roughly half a dozen South Florida cities have installed red-light camera systems, and others, including Fort Lauderdale and Miami, are considering them.

In municipalities where the cameras are already rolling, police have caught hundreds of traffic scofflaws.

”There are so many accidents caused by red-light runners that the whole issue is based on the safety of our residents,” said Pembroke Pines City Manager Charlie Dodge. Pines was one of the first South Florida cities to approve the cameras.

Critics say the cameras raise constitutional concerns. And traffic studies by the Federal Highway Administration and several universities show that while the cameras reduce right-angle crashes, they drive up rear-end collisions.

”There are much better ways of improving intersection safety, such as longer yellow lights or more visible traffic signals,” said Henry Stowe, Florida chapter coordinator for the National Motorists Association, a traffic safety group that opposes the cameras.

The cameras ”are intended as revenue generators for cities. That’s the reason they are doing them,” Stowe contends.

Hundreds of cities and counties nationwide and more than a dozen in Florida have installed red-light cameras, which cost at least $50,000 per intersection.

Most systems use high-resolution cameras to record vehicles speeding toward intersections as the light turns red.

The cameras snap two pictures: One shows the vehicle approaching the light, and the second captures a shot of the license plate if the vehicle enters the intersection while the light is red.

A police officer then reviews the images and, if a violation occurred, sends a ticket to the registered owner. Most cities also offer an appeals process if someone other than the owner was driving at the time.

The cameras also can record video clips of the vehicle running the light — video that also can be used for accident investigations.

Courts have ruled that drivers on a public road don’t have an expectation of privacy.

However, state law still prohibits municipalities from placing the cameras on state-owned property or using them to charge drivers with traffic violations, as thenattorney general and now-Gov. Charlie Crist wrote in a 2005 opinion for Pembroke Pines. Privacy worries also have stalled perennial efforts to change the law.

So, cities have steered around the ban by using code enforcement-style violations and placing the cameras on city- or county-owned land.

In Aventura, where cameras currently monitor three intersections, police handed out 2,800 warnings during an 80-day probationary period that ended Oct. 10. By early November, police had issued nearly 300 citations.

In Hollywood, Police Chief Chadwick Wagner discussed the cameras with commissioners on Oct. 15 while showing video of collisions caused by red-light runners. All seven commissioners spoke in support of the idea.

If approved, the cameras wouldn’t be installed until at least the middle of next year. And while it’s too soon to know where the cameras would go, Wagner told commissioners that likely candidates would be intersections where major east-west roads like Hollywood Boulevard and Sheridan Street meet Interstate 95 or U.S. 441.

Hollywood Vice Mayor Dick Blattner said he initially opposed installing the cameras because they seemed like “nothing more than a way for communities to make money.”

But, seeing the accidents caused by red-light running changed his mind.

Mayor Peter Bober said he hopes the cameras will reduce red-light runners, freeing police officers for other tasks.

”Every time I pass a major accident in the city and I see five or six police cars, these are resources that are not somewhere else in the city,” he said.