Editorial: Hit pause button on red-light cameras

Published Feb. 26, 2013

It's time to hit the pause button on red-light cameras. They have become a bureaucratic nightmare for the state's clerks of courts who process the citations. Drivers cited for running red lights are caught in a maze of paperwork, vaguely worded regulations and an unfair system of fines. And the cameras are more about raising money for local governments than reducing accidents. Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court Ken Burke has thoughtfully listed the flaws in the red-light camera craze, and local governments should shut the cameras off at least until the Legislature makes some fixes.

As Burke correctly noted, the red-light cameras have created a massive traffic jam of bureaucracy, a resentful driving public and a growing chorus of pleas to Tallahassee to address the unintended consequences. Drivers captured on camera running a red light face a $158 fine. But as Burke noted in a letter to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, many red-light runners, such as tourists behind the wheel of a rental car or someone borrowing a friend or family member's car, aren't the actual owners of the vehicles. Red-light violators have up to 30 days to pay the $158 fine. But by the time the rental car company or original owner notifies the clerk's office of the identity of the driver in order to reissue a uniform traffic citation, 30 days have often passed and the fine has jumped to $264. The driver has had no opportunity to challenge the original citation in court or simply pay the lower fine. That's not due process, and it's fundamentally unfair.

Burke's office handled 36,185 red-light camera violations between November 2011 and October 2012, and it has been inundated with complaints from angry drivers challenging their tickets and inflated fines — many with good cause.

Foster and officials in Clearwater, which has cameras at two intersections, should heed Burke's request to impose a moratorium on the cameras until the Legislature can unwind the chaos it has created. A good start should include starting the 30-day clock to pay the lower fine when the actual driver of the offending vehicle has been identified and given the opportunity to pay the citation or challenge it.

Florida depends on tourists, and it should not become known as an expensive, unfair red-light speed trap.