Did you get a ticket from a red light camera you don't think you deserve? How you appeal that will change, starting July 1, thanks to legislation sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Brandes.
The changes will create more work for cities and counties that use red light cameras but will fix other problems, according to one of the region's most vocal red light camera critics.
"I'm real pleased with it," said Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court Ken Burke, who urged Pinellas cities with red light cameras to stop issuing tickets earlier this year. "It's a big improvement."
The legislation, an amendment to a 226-page transportation bill in the last legislative session awaiting Gov. Rick Scott's signature, makes a few major changes:
• Cities and counties must create an appeals process. Now, the only way to appeal requires the ticket, which starts as a $158 administrative violation issued by a city or county, to become a state-issued uniform traffic citation, which carries a minimum $264 fine if you lose.
• People who get tickets will have 60 days to respond. The current 30-day time line creates unfairness — people who are ticketed while driving rental cars automatically pay $264 instead of $158 because by the time the ticket gets to them, it has become a uniform traffic citation, thanks to a quirk in state law.
• Drivers making a right on red could catch a break. They still can get tickets if they fail to stop at all before making the turn, but not if they just don't stop before the line.
Brandes, a Republican who represents South Tampa and parts of Pinellas County, acknowledges the legislation doesn't go as far as he'd like — he said he'd like to do away with red light cameras all together.
The new appeals process could make appealing tickets a more expensive proposition, but Brandes doesn't think so. It allows governments to recover costs for holding the appeal, up to $250 on top of the $158 fine, but Brandes doesn't think cities should incur a cost of more than $25 to $100 per person.
Area cities with red light cameras are unsure about their costs. Legal staffers for St. Petersburg and Tampa are still evaluating it. New Port Richey Finance Director Doug Haag was similarly noncommittal, but does think the new system will be better.
"I think it will be a much quicker, more efficient judicial hearing process," Haag said. "I think it's a positive."
Clearwater Assistant City Attorney Rob Surette is working on an appeals process, but declined to go into specifics until the City Council could weigh in. He did note the legislation allows cities to task code enforcement boards with red light camera appeals, and that Clearwater has a code enforcement board.
Red light cameras have produced hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for cities such as Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and New Port Richey that have installed them.
They have been a source of controversy in many of those cities, with debates over whether governments are motivated more by safety or by revenue.
Supporters, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, say they make busy intersections safer. In Tampa, crashes have decreased at intersections with cameras, according to police records. A report by the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles found 41 of 73 law enforcement agencies also saw fewer crashes at intersections after installing cameras between July 2011 and June 2012.
Critics also have numbers to back them up. In St. Petersburg, rear-end wrecks at intersections with red light cameras jumped 44 percent between November 2011 and October 2012, according to city records, and total crashes at those intersections actually increased 10 percent in the first year with cameras.
While the changes won't quiet the critics, they will force cities and counties to make a choice, according to Burke. If they really are concerned with safety, he said, city officials will put up with the trouble of creating a new process.
"If their concern is income, well, then it becomes a business decision," Burke said.
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or [email protected]