City’s Traffic Light Camera Appeal Denied

Finally, a small victory for the little guy! It comes as no surprise to anyone that red light traffic cameras are an increasing annoyance to everyone except the municipalities who use them and the private companies that make a fortune off of installing and then maintaining them. Like many other traffic laws in Florida, traffic cameras serve one purpose and one purpose only – to continue to line the pockets of local politicians. Yes, we all know that proponents of red light traffic cameras espouse that their purpose is to advance public safety. Well, I am not buying it. As a traffic ticket attorney, I have seen too many instances where drivers have gotten traffic tickets when they weren’t even moving. Additionally, the knowledge that these cameras are the livelihood of private companies who have a major financial interest in advocating their use bolsters my skepticism.

Although the constitutionality of using these red light traffic cameras has been challenged in the court systems ever since their inception, recent news gives drivers, and traffic ticket attorneys, hope that they may be on their way out. On October 15, a three-judge panel for the Fourth District Court of Appeals denied the appeal of the City of Hollywood to have an earlier decision overturned. The previous matter supported Eric Arem’s claim that the issuance of citations by a private company is not permissible under Florida state law, which was then supported by the appeals panel reinforcing that state law does not permit private companies to issue traffic citations. Yet individual municipalities hire private companies, one Arizona-based company in particular, to install and maintain red light traffic ticket cameras. This results in a fiscally symbiotic relationship for both parties.

Drivers are surely elated at this development, but it does pave the way for many unanswered questions. Surely, one question that is in the forefront of most drivers’ minds is whether or not traffic tickets will still be issued in South Florida as a result of red light traffic cameras. It is not an easy question to answer because, although some towns have done away with traffic cameras, this most recent ruling pertaining to Hollywood is not yet carved in stone. According to Hollywood spokesperson, Raelin Storey, there is still a possibility that there may be a rehearing or it can be appealed before the Florida Supreme Court.

“This case has the potential to impact a number of cities that contract with (… the Arizona company),” Storey said. “If the administration of the program has to change dramatically, we would, of course, have to evaluate whether we can continue to afford to operate it.”

The determination made by the appellate court ruling states, “Such outsourcing to a third-party… for red light camera violations is contrary to the plain wording of the Florida statutes.” This “plain wording” provision prevents cities and municipalities from applying their own interpretation of law, thereby ensuring uniformity throughout the state in the application of traffic laws and the fines and penalties that arise from traffic violations.

This is far from the first time that the use of red light traffic cameras has been a matter of controversy. Back in June, a court ruled that several other Florida towns side-stepped Florida state law by the use of traffic light cameras prior to July 1, 2010 when the State Legislature approved the use of these cameras. The continued push to repeal or restrict the use of these cameras has met with resistance by those who support them and by safety studies being impeded in the State Legislature.

This recent ruling may have been aimed at Hollywood, but other towns such as Hallendale Beach and Hialeah have already done away with the unpopular red light traffic cameras. In light of all of this controversy, it’s not surprising to learn that many other cities are actively trying to circumvent similar issues from occurring. Additionally, the list of South Florida towns that are suspending the use of red light traffic cameras pending further action by the courts continues to grow.

“We have to be prudent,” Palm Beach County Attorney Denise Nieman said regarding that county’s decision to temporarily suspend their traffic camera program.

Unfortunately for drivers, each city still gets to choose whether or not to use these traffic cameras. Although the argument for doing so is that they reduce accidents, the fine for committing a red light camera violation is $158. With over 900 traffic cameras installed in Florida, most of which are in South Florida, this practice has generated over 750,000 traffic tickets and more than $119 million in fines.

A large portion of that revenue goes to the company that installs the cameras and generates the traffic tickets. This makes it obvious that this is more about being a profit-generating business than about any genuine interest in reducing accidents. After all, what better way to cover budgetary shortfalls than under the guise of concern for the public welfare? Of course, the private company’s website also touts how they are improving safety for the public’s own good, but you will be hard pressed to see anything posted there as to how lucrative this business has become for them.

In what would appear to be a frantic effort, the Arizona company that provides these traffic cameras to Hollywood claims that it can change the way they issue the traffic tickets. Why wouldn’t they scramble to come up with an alternative? In 2013 and 2014 alone, this particular company has gleaned a large percentage of roughly $28,000,000 that the State of Florida has paid to the traffic camera vendors.

Even though the debate regarding the legality and efficacy of traffic cameras continues to rage, no other precedent exists so this recent is ruling is now case law, at least for the time being. As such, it will hopefully pave the way for more municipalities to consider the legal ramifications of having the cameras installed and maintained. As long as they continue to be profitable, it’s likely that local governments will try to justify their existence. Eliminating the profit margin by doing away with third-party issued traffic tickets and fighting these erroneous traffic tickets in court are the best way to ensure a fairer playing field when red light traffic tickets are issued. In many cases, it is possible that refunds are due to motorists who have received red light traffic camera citations.

If you feel that you are one of those many drivers who have received an unjust red light traffic ticket, give us a call for a free consultation. We will be happy to review your traffic ticket with you and continue to work to protect your right and the rights of other drivers.