A recent report by WTSP 10 News of Tampa Bay pointed out that after secretly decreasing yellow light intervals below the federal recommendations, the state of Florida has reaped millions from otherwise safe drivers. American Traffic Solutions, the company selling red light camera to governments on all levels, has a strong financial motive behind the practice.
The change, instituted by the Florida Department of Transportation, has been a cause for public outrage and is a bullheaded attempt at trying to combat red-light-running. What’s odd about this situation is that, for instance, “around Greater Tampa Bay, the yellow light interval reductions typically took place at RLC (red light camera) intersections and corridors filled with RLC cameras.” Despite studies verifying that lengthening yellow lights in fact decrease danger, the FDOT still shortened the time.
The FDOT insists that there were “no financial motive(s) to shorten yellow lights; the agency doesn’t receive any direct payments from RLC fines.” Florida State Sen. Jeff Clemens (D) said that drivers will just get used to the yellow light duration change, which is the same talking point that the ATS asserts. Charles Territo said “over time drivers get used to the change and we’ve seen those violations steadily increase.” Not a surprising corroboration considering ATS is a financial contributor to Clemens. And with ATS’s affinity for money-grubbery, party affiliation is nothing but a word, having their hands in all the cookie jars. Almost 60 percent of their political contributions have gone to the Republican camp.
In March of this year, The Miami Herald reported that a bill that was supposed to lower RLC fines was voted out of the Florida state senate. According to the Miami Herald, “The Florida Senate Transportation Committee . . . approved an amendment by Sen. Jeff Clemens. It restored the fines at $158,” as opposed to the proposed $100 fine. There’s also one oddity when considering penalties for not paying a red light camera ticket. There really are none. The SunSentinel reported that ATS has a process delay with their tickets.
Ultimately, this means that even if a driver gets an RLC ticket, they don’t have to pay it because “Florida law says both a traffic ticket, and a second ticket that will go out if the first is not paid, have to be processed within 60 days of a traffic violation. If both tickets aren’t processed, the initial fine is still sent. But it can never be enforced.” It could also mean Florida cities lose money. Also, if it can’t be enforced, drivers can’t get penalized with points on their license, which won’t affect their insurance rates. Not to mention, the city, county, or state will not earn any revenue from red light runners. However, without this knowledge, people still pay.
According to the Biscayne Times, ATS charges a fee to cities that are using their camera systems. In 2010, Florida state legislators, boosted by a $1.5 million lobby from ATS, passed the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, that requires the municipalities to pay up tons of money. In the city of Aventura, Fla., the city has to pay $4750 a month “for each camera covering four lanes of traffic.”
It’s all bad business. The FDOT, senators like Clemens, and ATS are earning money from a system that, technically, isn’t real law enforcement anyway. But they still rake in hundreds of millions. This year, the cameras are predicted to bring in about $120 million. They are manipulating Florida drivers into paying these bogus tickets.
Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.