Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

City Cashes in on Its Cameras

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

City Cashes in on Its Cameras

Article excerpt

TRAFFIC TOOL: With devices' aid, Sarasota has fast become a state leader in red-light runners

Florida cities and counties handed out nearly $100 million in tickets generated by red-light cameras during the last year, and Sarasota has quickly become a statewide leader in fining red-light runners.

The statewide total is nearly triple the number of automatically generated fines collected the year before.

The city of Sarasota was a latecomer to the red-light camera trend, starting its ticketing in January. But by June, the city was the 10th most-active ticketer among the 71 Florida cities and counties that use the cameras.

In all, people accused of running red-lights in Sarasota during the first six months of this year paid more than $1 million in fines. In Bradenton, the city's cameras generated $1.2 million in fines during the 12-month period that ended June 30, records show.

In Sarasota, nearly 1,500 drivers were ticketed and paid fines in June, putting the city ahead of Orlando, Tallahassee and Fort Lauderdale in collections even though those cities have at least three times the population.

Despite a push by opponents to repeal the 2010 law that approved the cameras, the devices' use continues to grow in popularity among Florida cities and counties. Forty-eight municipalities started using them in the first year they were allowed; another 23 added them in the past year, including Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Boca Raton.

Bradenton was an early adopter, collecting its first ticket revenues in September 2010, two months after the law went into effect.

Etienne Pracht, a University of South Florida professor who is a critic of the cameras, wonders why the number of tickets issued keeps going up when these cameras were supposed to curtail red- light running.

"These things were installed as a means to prevent red-light running," he said. "But looking at the numbers, if it's going up, you have to ask the question: 'Is it working?'"

Use of the cameras was approved by the Legislature in 2010 with the passage of the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program, named after a Bradenton man killed by a red-light runner in 2003. Tickets are mailed to offenders once the violation is confirmed by authorities.

The tickets are $158 each, with $83 of that going to the state, mainly to its general fund. The remaining $75 goes to the local government that writes the ticket. The camera vendor receives a flat per-camera fee each month.

Adding together all 71 cities and counties that use the cameras, there were 615,000 tickets issued in Florida during the 12-month period that ended June 30. That is a 160 percent increase over the number of tickets issued during the previous year.

The cameras do not appear to be changing driver habits. The 40 municipalities that were writing tickets in June 2011 collected 31,368 fines that month. …

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