Despite public outcry over the unfairness of red light cameras, and despite not one but two judges ruling that red-light-camera citations are in violation of state law, Fort Lauderdale commissioners decided they're going to keep the traffic lights with cameras anyway.
For now, the red-light-camera program has been shelved. But Fort Lauderdale leaders decided Tuesday that they're going to keep the program and that it'll be up and running in the near future.
The city did suspend the program on March 6, after a Broward traffic court ruled that it was a violation of a state statute that says only law enforcement agencies can issue violations. For the past four years, the City of Fort Lauderdale has had a contract with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS), a company that calls itself "the largest provider of road safety camera programs to America’s largest cities." ATS installed and operates the cameras at certain traffic lights at different intersections throughout the city.
Critics of the program have been arguing for the past four years that ATS was reviewing video of cars supposedly running red lights and then sending the results to law enforcement officials who then to sent out tickets to purported violators.
On Monday, two judges dismissed over 24,000 red-light camera tickets that totaled about $6.3 million. after The Ticket Clinic argued that ATS's involvement in having tickets sent out was in violation of the state statute. The rulings were thought to be the beginning of the end of red-light camera tickets throughout South Florida. But the state has been fighting the red-light cameras for some time now. In 2014, a Florida District Court of Appeals judge ruled that it’s illegal for camera operators to issue citations to drivers.
In her ruling, Broward Judge Terri-Ann Miller wrote a similar conclusion, saying that "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."
Months before that ruling, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that cities didn’t have the authority to use red-light cameras to ticket commuters in Aventura and Orlando prior to 2010. But motorists would have to legally challenge the state in order to get their money refunded, and that the citations would have to have been issued before 2010. Justice Barbara Pariente dissented from that ruling, saying that the state didn't specifically forbid red-light traffic cameras, and were therefore legal.
In the ongoing battle over whether to have red-light cameras over the years, different cities — from Hollywood to Aventura, to Boynton Beach —- have suspended the right-light camera ticketing program. But Fort Lauderdale city leaders insist that the program will return in the name of safety.
"These red light cameras save lives," Mayor Jack Seiler said on Tuesday at City Hall. "Based on the court rulings, the system needs to be tweaked. At the end of the day, you'll see some red light camera program in place."
Currently there are 23 cameras throughout the city, as per the $1.7 million contract Fort Lauderdale has with ATS. The current contract is expected to expire in 2016. And, according to an agreement between ATS and the City, Fort Lauderdale would be fined a $2,000 terminate fee per camera for each month remaining in the agreement (you can see a copy of the agreement at the end this article).
Seiler said on Tuesday that the program works, and that it "has never been about finances."
Tickets, meanwhile, have ranged anywhere from $150 to $300, with critics claiming that the program has been nothing more than a money grab for the state.
The city is willing to work with motorists, and will look to enact a system that will lower ticket prices. On Tuesday, ATS said they too are willing to work with the city to make something like that happen.
For now, the cameras remain in place, and may even snap your pic if you happen to roll through a traffic light when the yellow goes red.
So here's how you can avoid the headache of dealing with a ticket:
1. Fight it. This is the time to fight a red-light camera ticket, since judges have been quick to dismiss them. Keep in mind though, if you don't fight it and just act like it doesn't exist, the fine will go up like any other ticket.
2. Know it. Print out this handy-dandy map of Fort Lauderdale that shows where traffic lights with cameras are located:
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