Red-light cameras in Hillsborough busier in 2012

An increase of almost 2,000 tickets in the first half of 2012 reverses 2011's downward trend.

North of Tampa drivers appear to have amnesia when it comes to stopping at red lights — at least at one popular intersection.

Citations for running red lights at Dale Mabry Highway and Waters Avenue increased by 52 percent over the first six months of this year, according to a report from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Red-light violations at the intersection of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fletcher Avenue — which, like Dale Mabry and Waters, has a traffic camera — dropped by 8 percent over the same time period.

Overall, red-light citations at the six county intersections equipped with cameras are up by almost 2,000 when compared with the first six months of 2011.

Until this year, red-light citations had been falling. Records show the county issued 2,384 fewer citations in 2011 compared with 2010, the first year the cameras went operational.

Cpl. Troy Morgan, who oversees the sheriff's office's red-light camera program, believes the increase may come down to more traffic.

"Last year, when citations dropped, we thought the cameras had modified driver behavior but it could be we just had less people driving last year because of the economy but we are going to further evaluate the numbers," Morgan said. "It could be an increase in citations (unrelated to traffic volume) but my assumption would be we are seeing an increase in the traffic volume."

The number of citations issued at Dale Mabry and Waters jumped from 1,194 in the first six months of 2011 to 1,809 in the first months of 2012. That's an average of 10 vehicles running red lights at the intersection every day.

Waters and Anderson Road citations decreased by 10 percent with 223 fewer tickets between January and June this year. Sligh and Habana avenues reported an increase of 27 percent, with 85 more citations issued.

Cameras caught 3,804 drivers running red lights at Bruce B. Downs and Fletcher Avenue in the first six months of this year, compared with 4,113 from January to June last year.

Driving to work every day for the last five years along Bruce B. Downs, Joy Kobasko of Wesley Chapel has seen a change in how drivers approach the intersection.

"I would see three to five cars running the red light before the cameras were installed. It was pandemonium," Kobasko said. "Now it's only one or two cars. It's calmed down a lot because people know there is a ticket waiting if they run the light."

There's no shortage of traffic in the area.

Blow a car horn at the intersection and it can be heard on the campus of the University of South Florida, the James A. Haley VA Medical Center, Florida Hospital and a host of medical office suites, restaurants and retail stores.

"You have to consider the demographics of the area with the university, hospitals and doctor's offices nearby so it could be that we have educated the drivers there," Morgan said. "It may be that the drivers in that area are commuters and students who drive the route daily and know we have the camera there now."

Morgan has no doubt the cameras make drivers more vigilant and help to save lives. He points to reports that show crashes decreasing at the six intersections equipped with cameras — 395 crashes in 2008, 275 crashes in 2009, 270 crashes in 2010 and 240 in 2011.

"The cameras do something law enforcement cannot do, and that is provide 24-hour, 365-day-a-year coverage," said Morgan who regularly posts videos of drivers running red lights at the Sheriff's Office website.

"We would love to believe the cameras are making an impact but there are a lot of factors involved. You can look at some intersections like Bell Shoals and Bloomingdale (citations there increased by 24 percent for the first six months of this year) and see that construction on a nearby road might be contributing to more citations, but most of the time it's hard to put your finger on what is causing an increase or decrease in citations."

Motorists caught running a red light pay a $158 fine. Of that, $75 goes to the county, with the remainder going to the state. Every violation is reviewed by a sheriff's deputy who weeds out legitimate turns on red before a ticket is mailed out. No points are assessed on a driver's license and motorists can appeal the tickets in traffic court.

The program doesn't cost taxpayers. It is paid for by those who run the red lights.

American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the company that installed and maintains the cameras, is paid $47,500 per month to maintain 10 cameras at the six county intersections. The company also operates seven cameras in Temple Terrace and 27 in Tampa. ATS operates 630 cameras across Florida in 61 municipalities.

While more towns and counties are giving the program a green light — Oldsmar and Clearwater recently turned on their own traffic cameras — critics are seeing red.

Last month, a state appeals court ruled against a Broward County motorist who claimed his citation violated the U.S. and Florida constitutions. Three other legal challenges to red-light cameras are still pending.

A bill to repeal the 2009 state law that allowed local governments to install the cameras passed the House in 2011 but died in the Senate.

Kevin Brady can be reached at [email protected]

Intersection201020112012 (Jan. – June)
Brandon Town Centre Drive and Brandon Blvd. (Westfield Brandon) 6,748 *8,2404,871
Bell Shoals Road and Bloomingdale Ave2,5622,5461,369
Bruce B. Downs Blvd and Fletcher Avenue7,8758,6453,804
Waters Ave and Dale Mabry Highway7,2332,7591,809
Waters Avenue and Anderson Road5,4185,1322,076
Sligh Avenue and Habana Avenue671797400
Source: Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

* Note: The red-light camera at Westfield Brandon was installed in April 2010.