BROOKSVILLE — Since the city reintroduced red-light cameras at several intersections seven months ago, more than $1 million in fines has been collected from violators unfortunate enough to have their actions captured by the traffic-monitoring devices.
The deal has proven lucrative for all of the entities involved. Of the $158 collected from every citation, the state takes $83. The remaining $75 is split between the city and the camera vendor, Sensys America Inc. So far, Brooksville has earned nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
But not everyone who has received citations has been forced to pay them. Savvy attorneys looking to exploit any legal loophole in the state statute governing the cameras have been worming their way to success with more and more frequency.
Brooksville lawyer Peyton Hyslop is one of them. So far, he's 10 for 10 in defending clients before two county judges. His latest victories, which involved clients cited for making improper right turns on red, came in a ruling last month by County Judge Donald Scaglione.
Previously, County Judge Kurt Hitzemann had ruled that some procedures used by the city and its vendor to enforce the law and charge violators were improper.
In his 11-page ruling, Scaglione ultimately agreed that Hyslop's clients, plus six other defendants charged with the same infraction, were not impeding traffic when they made the rolling turns, which are allowed by the statute as long as they are done in a "careful and prudent manner." Three others who failed to appear in court that day were found guilty of the infractions.
Although the state statute governing red-light cameras doesn't provide a specific speed for right turns on red, drivers in Brooksville, under city rules, can be ticketed when a radar device determines they have exceeded 5 mph during the turn.
Hyslop thinks the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, the statute passed by the Florida Legislature in 2010 that allows the use of red-light cameras by counties and municipalities, has obvious flaws, as well as ambiguities in how it is enforced.
"The truth is, the Legislature didn't write a very good law," Hyslop said. "The inconsistencies and underlying constitutional issues are rather glaring. That's why you're seeing it challenged so often."
Brooksville is one of more than 70 cities and municipalities statewide that currently have the cameras in use. But that could change during this year's legislative session if Rep, Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, has her way. This month, she filed a bill that could ultimately strip local governments of the authority to install the cameras.
The House bill comes on the heels of a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles study based on a survey of the 73 local governments in Florida with active red-light camera programs.
According to a statement from the Florida League of Cities, which supports red-light camera programs, the five-page study showed that from July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012, 44 percent of Florida municipalities with active red-light cameras reported a reduction in side-impact crashes, 41 percent experienced a reduction in rear-end crashes and 56 percent reported a total reduction in crashes at red-light-camera intersections.
The study does not detail the extent to which accidents have decreased at intersections with or without the cameras.
Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, a longtime opponent of red-light cameras, said that the study is "inconclusive at best" when it comes to proving whether the cameras make intersections safer.
"There are hundreds of studies, and they say different things," Schenck said. "So far, I haven't seen one that's convinced me that the cameras are nothing more than a ruse to take the public's money."
Schenck said he will work to support Campbell's bill when the Legislature meets this spring.
However, Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn, whose support for the city's red-light camera program dates back to when the cameras were first installed in 2008, said she disagreed with Schenck's assessment of the study.
"I think history has proven they are working and are making drivers more cautious," said Bradburn, who sits on the Metropolitan Planning Organization advisory council as well as the Florida League of Cities.
"When we didn't have them for a while, we saw increases in the number of accidents at those intersections. So if the threat of getting a ticket makes people think twice about running a red light, I'm all for it."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.