By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — Big changes could be coming to cities with red-light cameras after a Florida District Court of Appeals judge said it’s illegal for camera operators to issue citations to drivers.
“In Florida, only law enforcement officers and traffic enforcement officers have the legal authority to issue citations for traffic infractions, which means only law enforcement officers and traffic enforcement officers are entitled to determine who gets prosecuted for a red light violation,” the ruling read.
The program works like this: Cameras installed at traffic signals snap photos and are examined by the camera’s owner — not law enforcement — to determine whether a violation occurred. A citation is sent to the alleged violator. The driver has 60 days to appeal the ticket before it’s converted into a fine, just like any other citation issued by law enforcement officers.
“The private company is the one who sends the citations in the name of the city,” said Miami lawyer Victor Yurre. “Now it will have to be the city that does it.”
The case was brought to court in 2011 by Eric Arem, who received a subpoena issued directly by American Traffic Solutions, the private company hired by the City of Hollywood in Broward County to administer the red-light camera program.
Initially the court ruled against the driver, but the decision was reversed on appeal.
The ruling has implications statewide. American Traffic Solutions provides similar services to 63 municipalities in the state, according to its website.
Could this new ruling cancel existing and previous fines? Yurre said the cities could either cancel the fines issued by private companies, or the city themselves could reissue the citations and enforce payment.
Florida Watchdog contacted Hollywood to see if it will appeal the judge’s ruling, but officials didn’t respond to email or return phone calls.
This isn’t the first time red-light cameras have been the center of controversy.
In June, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Florida cities didn’t have the authority to use red-light cameras to ticket motorists before 2010 after the Legislature enacted the law. The case involved the cities of Orlando and Aventura.
Red-light cameras have been criticized as nothing more than a revenue generator. Tickets can run between $158 and $300. The fines are divided between the private contractor, city, county and state. If a driver decides to fight the ticket, the cost can spiral upward to include court costs and fees if the driver is found guilty.
Some anti-camera advocates say red-light cameras cause more accidents than they prevent, especially rear-end collisions as drivers slam on the brakes to avoid a ticket.