Orlando ruling against red light cameras paves way for refunds across state
Following an Orange County circuit judge’s court ruling in August that deemed nearly 50,000 tickets resulting from red light cameras were unenforceable in Orlando, law firms representing victims of the increasingly utilized practice of monitoring intersections with cameras have begun bringing the fight elsewhere in the state.
Privatizing the task of tracking motorists running red lights is a relatively new phenomenon in the state, and many cities who began issuing tickets before new legislation was put into place may have to refund fines levied before July 1. Until then, the legal authority overseeing traffic violations rested with state, and no standards had existed for the use of cameras in monitoring and issuing tickets related to moving violations.
From The Palm Beach Post:
Judge Frederick Lauten wrote in a seven-page decision that the city, when it started ticketing in September 2008, did not have the power to use cameras to ticket drivers who run red lights because that authority is reserved for the state.
“Although the court believes the city’s articulated goal is laudable — increasing public safety by reducing red light-running — the challenged city ordinance intrudes on an area of law reserved to the state is therefore invalid,” Lauten wrote.
The ruling doesn’t mean Orlando will be turning its cameras off, because the Legislature changed the law earlier this year to allow enforcement cameras. But it would seem to throw out nearly 50,000 tickets mailed to violators before the new law took effect July 1.
“We always knew this day could come,” City Attorney Mayanne Downs said. “We thought this was a risk worth taking because of the program’s dramatic benefit to public safety.”
Now the West Palm Beach law firm responsible for the ruling, Schuler Halvorson & Weisser, is looking for similar outcomes in 25 additional lawsuits against cities and counties across the state. Among them is Palm Coast, and while Orlando is in the 9th Circuit and Palm Coast the 7th, associate attorney David Kerner claims the legal issues remain the same.
“They are the same issues of law,” he said.
From The Daytona Beach News-Journal:
Palm Coast has collected $1.69 million from red-light camera citations issued before July 1 when a new state law took effect legalizing the photo enforcement, city finance director Ray Britt said. That amount doesn’t include people who have yet to pay their citations. The city issued 20,161 citations for red-light running before July 1.
The city would have to come up with less than $1 million if American Traffic Solutions, the company operating the red-light cameras in Palm Coast, has to give back its share.
Attorney Jason Weisser said local jurisdictions that ignored state law and mounted cameras at intersections across Florida were simply after fines.
“There are other legitimate ways to achieve the public policy concern of avoiding accidents,” he said. “In our mind, this is clearly just a moneymaker.”
Red light cameras have sprung up around the state, with Tallahassee launching its own program and this month expanding monitoring to three intersections with more cameras planned for next year. Reports in other states have shown that in many instances, the presence of cameras at intersections can actually increase the likelihood of accidents and that more cost effective, less intrusive methods of addressing safety on the roadways exist:
In a study of six jurisdictions over a seven-year period, the Virginia Transportation Research Council concluded that camera installations were associated with an increase in rear-end collisions. In 2001, the Virginia Department of Transportation increased by 1.5 seconds the length of the yellow-light cycle at an intersection with cameras. The increase in the yellow-light time resulted in a 94 percent drop in citations at the intersection.
Last year, Norcross, Georgia officials abandoned the use of red-light cameras in the wake of mandatory increases in yellow-light intervals statewide, because violations dropped to the point where the privately operated camera systems were costing the city revenue.
In November, the size of the class-action lawsuit against violations issued prior to the new state law will be determined and, according to Orlando City Attorney Downs, fewer than 100,000 people ticketed before July 1 have protested their citations. As per legal doctrine, those who voluntarily pay the fine instead of appealing it lose their right to an appeal.