MANATEE COUNTY, Florida - An unusual clause in its red light camera contract is essentially prohibiting Manatee County from easing up on its controversial enforcement of $158 "rolling right" tickets. The community has developed a reputation among some drivers as being a "trap" that puts profits over safety.
After 10 Investigates - and a bevy of driver complaints - exposed how Manatee County was aggressively ticketing right turns on red that most surrounding communities allow, commissioners agreed to explore if there was any leniency in enforcement.
Lawmakers behind the 2010 Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, which regulates red light camera (RLC) enforcement in Florida, said they didn't want automated ticketing technology to put profits over safety. So municipalities are not allowed to use RLC to ticket drivers who roll through right turns in a "careful and prudent" manner. But Manatee County's interpretation of "careful and prudent" has been strict.
And a staff report, due to come before the commission Tuesday, indicates the county's RLC contract prevents staff or deputies from giving drivers any additional benefit of the doubt.
"In the event a County employee...declines to issue a Notice of Violation...for right turn movements," Assistant County Attorney Maureen Sikora quoted from its red light camera contract, "for each such failure Contractor shall receive a credit of $75."
That means the camera provider Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), which is owned by Xerox, could bill the county for not issuing right turn tickets. According to a 10 Investigates analysis, Manatee County currently writes more than 2,400 "rolling right" tickets a month, which could represent an additional $184,000 a month to ACS/Xerox.
The county already pays ACS/Xerox $37,200 each month to operate eight cameras at five local intersections.
Florida cities are not allowed to pay camera vendors based on the number of tickets issued, but Manatee County's contract clause stipulates a fee based on the tickets not written. It's unclear whether the language would hold up in court.
A spokesman for leading camera-provider, American Traffic Solutions, tells 10 Investigates the company does not use such contract provisions in Florida.
A 1995 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report concluded "less than 0.2 percent of all fatalities involved a right-turning vehicle maneuver at an intersection where RTOR is permitted" and a recent analysis of Florida crash data indicated only 0.4 percent of crashes were a result of right turns.
Yet when 10 Investigates got a first look last month at the Manatee County attorney's initial opinion, there was indication the county would show no leniency on right turn on red enforcement. This week's final report sheds even more light as to why the county will likely keep its strictest-in-the-region rules in place.
Many Tampa Bay-area communities won't ticket "rolling reds" if the driver slows down significantly before making the turn. But the Manatee County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) cites any driver caught approaching the red light at more than 12 miles per hour, even if there is no other traffic or pedestrians present. Most other local agencies use higher speed thresholds.
Additionally, 10 Investigates showed how the speed sensors were not located at the stop bar, but further back in the intersection's approach. That means the speed reading is ultimately not an indication of whether the driver was careless through the turn. Furthermore, the speed sensors are sometimes unreliable.
A look at automated right-turn-on-red (RTOR) ticketing by community:
|City||Min. Speed for RTOR Tickets|
|Haines City||None issued|
|Hillsborough Co.||15 mph|
|Kenneth City||12 mph|
|Manatee Co.||12 mph|
|New Port Richey||15 mph|
|Port Richey||None issued|
|S. Pasadena||12 mph|
|St. Petersburg||12 mph|
|Temple Terrace||15 mph|
|Source: FHP; local law enforcement agencies|
Prior to Manatee County's enforcement of "rolling rights," the county barely broke even on its red light camera program. But in the year since, ticket revenue has nearly quadrupled and brought millions of dollars into county coffers.
10 Investigates also recently broke news of how the county and ACS/Xerox decided on camera locations: rather than focus on the county's most dangerous intersections, the camera provider helped choose intersections that would generate the most number of tickets.
While tourist-heavy areas such as the Ellenton Factory Outlets have cameras, nine of the county's 10 most dangerous intersections do not.
Manatee County Commissioners have repeatedly declined 10 Investigates' requests for comment, but are expected to discuss the issue at Tuesday's commission meeting.