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Red-light cameras hunting down drivers in Temple Terrace, Hillsborough County

TAMPA — If you're not careful, making a right turn in Temple Terrace can be costly.

Just ask Walter Camacho, who got a $100 ticket last month for an illegal turn at 56th Street and Fowler Avenue.

Camacho swears he stopped before turning right on red. A hearing administrator at Temple Terrace City Hall disagreed.

At the city's once-monthly red-light camera court, Camacho pleaded his case. The fine was lowered to $75 and court costs were suspended, but he wasn't happy.

"I think it's a scheme to make money," the 35-year-old Tampa resident said after the hearing. Minutes earlier, a video showed his pickup rounding the corner onto 56th Street. "You could see my brake lights on. You could see it," he said.

A year after Temple Terrace installed videocameras to catch red-light runners at Fowler and 56th Street as well as Bullard Parkway and 56th Street, the vast majority are turning out to be people in Camacho's situation.

From Oct. 17, 2008, to Nov. 11 of this year, 93 percent of the 22,166 citations issued were for illegal right turns, records show. Officials insist they've been lenient, noting that only drivers passing the white stop line at more than 15 mph were cited. And of all violations observed, only one-third translated into actual citations.

Now Hillsborough County is going down the same path as Temple Terrace.

Crews this summer installed cameras at six intersections in the county: Fletcher Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard; Waters Avenue and Dale Mabry Highway; Waters Avenue and Anderson Road; Sligh and Habana avenues; Bloomingdale Avenue and Bell Shoals Road; and Brandon Boulevard at Grand Regency Boulevard.

After a warning period that started Oct. 30, sheriff's deputies will start mailing out citations on Dec. 30. The fines will be $125.

Since October 2008, Temple Terrace has amassed more than $1.4 million in fines. Hillsborough County officials expect an even larger take — $2.4 million a year.

Still, officials insist their main concern is safety, not money.

The fact that so many violations involve right turns means drivers are neglecting basic traffic laws by not stopping fully, said Patricia Powers, Temple Terrace's deputy police chief.

"Society in a general has gotten in such a hurry and, of course, all of our streets are busier and everyone is trying to get to work more quicker, and they forget about the driving basics and driving laws," she said.

Hillsborough sheriff's Cpl. Darrin Barlow also anticipates many right-turn violators. He expects scores of left-turn offenses because some drivers figure they've got a few seconds to turn after the arrow turns red.

"It's almost like they think they have a right to run the red light," he said.

Rolling through red lights, whether turning left or right, is already at near-epidemic proportions, said a local traffic expert. Drivers routinely roll through red lights because they see other drivers doing it, said Ed Mierzejewski, director of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.

"The reality is that most people look at right turn on red as a rolling stop," he said.

Drivers will eventually get used to stopping first, but if Temple Terrace's experience is any indication, it may take a citation or two for some people to catch on. More than 90 percent of the 1,100-plus violations issued by Temple Terrace in September were for right-on-red violations.

When the program debuted, officers were much busier. In November 2008, more than 3,200 notices went out. "Certainly there have been complaints," Temple Terrace spokesman Michael Dunn said. "Some people will see several violations in one day but don't realize what's happened. Then they get their mail a few days later and find out they ran that thing four times. People seem to have forgotten what they learned in their driving test. Some people will actually say, 'I didn't know I had to stop.' Like they completely forgot."

In Camacho's case, he insisted he came to a complete stop at Fowler Avenue before turning onto 56th Street. "You could see my brake lights in the pictures. I stopped. You could see my brake lights. That's why I'm confused."

Fast facts

Thousands of citations issued

Temple Terrace red light violations, Oct. 17, 2008-Nov. 12, 2009

Bullard Parkway

and 56th Street

Red-light citations: 8,972*

Right-on-red citations: 8,336

Fowler Avenue

and 56th Street

Red-light citations: 13,194*

Right-on-red citations: 12,335

Total

Red-light citations: 22,166*

Right-on-red citations: 20,671

*Includes right-on-red violations.

Red-light cameras hunting down drivers in Temple Terrace, Hillsborough County 11/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 28, 2009 11:51pm]
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