Friday, May 25, 2018
News Roundup

Red-light cameras bring more than 2,657 tickets in Clearwater, Oldsmar

The intersection of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Belcher Road has a Publix, an Albertsons, a Sunoco station and a CVS Pharmacy. It's a handy place to get groceries, gas and drugs.

Last month, more than 800 drivers got something else at that intersection — a traffic ticket from a red-light camera company.

Two local cities recently started using red-light cameras, and here are the results from the first month:

• In August, Clearwater and Oldsmar issued 1,145 and 1,512 tickets, respectively, using the new cameras.

• Those tickets come with $158 fines. With a total of 2,657 tickets issued, that's nearly $420,000 worth of fines in just one month. However, the cities collect less than a third of that money, with most of it going to the state.

• Clearwater and Oldsmar rejected more than 200 potential traffic tickets after officials reviewed each red-light violation on video. The drivers who weren't ticketed were usually making right turns on red, which is legal.

• Out of six locations in north Pinellas County that are being monitored by the cameras, the intersection of Tampa Road and State Road 580 in Oldsmar has the most red-light runners. More than 900 tickets were written there last month.

• In Clearwater, the intersection of Belcher and Gulf-to-Bay had the most violators, with 810.

So, was this what the cities expected?

"We didn't really have any expectations except to make things safer. We said, 'Let's take our worst intersections and make them better,'" said Oldsmar spokeswoman Ann Stephan. "The majority of our violations are from non-Oldsmar residents. A lot of them come from Tampa. These are definitely commuter-related infractions."

Studies of red-light cameras show that violations tend to decrease over time as the public becomes more aware of the cameras. That's what officials hope to see happen.

"This is all about safety. The proof of the pudding isn't how many tickets we write, but whether we achieve a decline in the number of tickets," said Clearwater City Council member Bill Jonson. "We want drivers to be more aware of these intersections, and I hope that will carry over to other intersections in the city."

Since 2009, Florida cities and counties have been allowed to install cameras at intersections and fine the registered owner of any vehicle caught on camera running a red light.

Cameras record the license plates of vehicles moving past a red-light sensor and transmit the footage to a city reviewer. After weeding out false violations, the reviewer sends the footage to a camera company to mail out tickets.

Fines start at $158, with $106 tacked on if the payment is late. No points are assessed, and appeals can go to traffic court.

Although Clearwater and Oldsmar issued nearly $420,000 in traffic fines with the cameras last month, it's not clear yet how much of that money will actually be collected and how many of these traffic tickets will be contested in court.

It's also worth noting that the local cities will get less than a third of that money, and they also have to split their cut with the camera companies they've hired.

For tickets on state roads, the state gets $100, the locality gets $45, the state Department of Health gets $10, and the brain and spinal cord injury trust fund gets $3. This formula applies to all of Clearwater's cameras and all but one of Oldsmar's cameras.

For tickets on city and county roads, the state gets $70 and the locality gets $75, while everything else stays the same.

For installing and maintaining its cameras, Clearwater pays Redflex Traffic Systems of Arizona $13,000 a month from ticket revenue. And Oldsmar pays American Traffic Solutions $19,000 a month to lease cameras at four sites.

Oldsmar had three out of four cameras operating last month. A camera at Tampa Road and St. Petersburg Drive E was delayed while waiting on approval from the Florida Department of Transportation, but it's now operational.

"The number of violations and issued citations in the first month after warnings supports the need for increased safety at the intersections," said Stephan, the Oldsmar spokeswoman. "The city's hope is that these first numbers will be the highest numbers, and that as more drivers drive more safely, the number of violations, citations and accidents will decrease."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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