(PNJ.com) - Local state-lawmakers are voicing support for a Florida House of Representatives bill that would remove a law that authorized the use of cameras to issue tickets to drivers who run red lights.
The bill, filed by Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, would repeal the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act of 2010 from Florida Law. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed the Senate companion to the bill in state September.
The Wandall Act was signed by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010 and created statewide consistent standards for the use of cameras as traffic enforcement devices.
Currently, the cities of Gulf Breeze and Milton use the technology. There are three intersections monitored by cameras in Gulf Breeze and three monitored in Milton, according to law enforcement officials.
In Gulf Breeze, the infraction involves only a $158 fine, and no points on the driver's license.
Pensacola area Rep. Mike Hill said research conducted by his office could find "no measurable reductions of accidents at many intersections" because of the cameras.
"It's not meeting its original purpose," he said of the cameras. "What it has turned out to be is a revenue collection device for either a city or a county. I think that's the wrong reason for having them."
Rep. Clay Ingram of Pensacola said he agreed with Hill, calling the fines a backdoor tax for municipalities. His office had found cases where vehicle owners were wrongly ticketed when another person drove their vehicle through a red light at a monitored intersection.
"I didn't see numbers that made that dramatic of a case to leave the cameras in place," he said.
Rep. Doug Broxson,
R-Gulf Breeze, could not be reached for comment.
Hill said he would consider changing his support for the bill if data could be shown that the monitored intersections had become safer.
The traffic cameras are simply not conducive to generating tourism in Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach, he said.
"When (tourists) get home, they have tickets waiting for them that are over $100," he said. "That would leave any visitor a sour taste in their mouth."
But Gulf Breeze Police Chief Robert Randle said he doesn't think it would be in the best interest of either Milton or Gulf Breeze to remove the cameras, nor did he think the proposed change to the law would come to fruition.
He said that driver safety has increased in Gulf Breeze as more people have become aware of the monitored intersections.
"It definitely has an impact on the drivers that are coming through the city," Randle said. "They know we have the cameras there. They're going to be a lot more cautious and prudent in their driving."
About 50,000 vehicles travel through Gulf Breeze every day according to city officials.
This year, 5,257 red light camera citations have been issued, Randle said.
He added that the notion of using the cameras as a revenue collection device instead of a safety device was unfounded. It costs about $5,000 a month to monitor an intersection.
"The City of Gulf Breeze and the City of Milton aren't seeing a lion's share of the proceeds. That's going to the state and other entities," he said. "The cameras aren't there for the cities to strike it rich, because there are a lot of costs there as well."
He said that while the money made from the cameras had enabled the Police Department to buy equipment it otherwise wouldn't have funds for, "if the red light cameras went away tomorrow, that won't have much of an impact on our budget."
He called those protesting the bill a vocal minority.
One particularly vehement member of that group is Robert Schmeck, 81, of Pensacola.
In September, he appealed a $158 ticket he received at a Gulf Breeze red light camera traffic hearing, But after reviewing camera film, the hearing officer ruled against him. An additional $250 worth of fees associated with the hearing was added to the price of his ticket.
Schmeck said he was told he could appeal the ticket again but would have to hire a lawyer.
So he paid his $308 in tickets and fees with pennies and nickels.
The only other option is to not pay the citation and wait 60 days to be issued a ticket by the state, which allows accused violators to challenge the ticket in traffic court. But the price of a ticket issued by the state is $264.
"I didn't have a chance. Nobody has a chance," Schmeck said. "That's why they write so many tickets. It's a scam."
Schmeck said Gulf Breeze's caution signal time, four seconds, is too fast.
Randle called his claim ludicrous.
Under state law, the city is allowed to set the lights to that amount of time. Until this month, he said, it was actually 0.4 seconds more than was required on a street with 35 mph speed limit.
But Schmeck said that still isn't enough time to react safely. In rain or heavy traffic, slamming on the brakes to avoid a ticket could cause wrecks.
"It's not a safety factor. It's a danger factor," he said.