Lawsuits Follow Red Light Cameras' Arrival In Florida
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Those red light cameras that catch drivers running lights have been installed here in California, as well as 23 other states over the past decade. Now the cameras are showing up in Florida. And from Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports they're also prompting a number of lawsuits.
GREG ALLEN: It does have one distinction. Several years ago, an insurance company named one of its street corners the most dangerous intersection in America. The city's vice mayor, Angelo Castillo, says since then Pembroke Pines has spent millions widening its roads, putting in left-turn lanes and improving safety. What it hasn't been able to do, Castillo says, is stop motorists from running red lights.
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ANGELO CASTILLO: We have seen mangled bicycles at intersections, where we have seen seniors who are afraid to cross the street, where we have seen too many roadside memorials of people who have perished in avoidable accidents.
ALLEN: About a year ago, Pembroke Pines became one of the first Florida communities to install a red light camera at a busy intersection - 129th Avenue and Pines Boulevard.
CASTILLO: Pines Boulevard is a four-lane highway at this point. And as you watch, just about every light, cars go right through a red. There goes one now. It's a red Mazda. This is the camera. And the reasons we're able to put it here is because this is now on city-owned property, connected to our fire station that just happens to be on this corner.
ALLEN: Around the time Pembroke Pines put up its camera, dozens of other cities and towns in Florida followed suit. Florida actually has been slow to adopt red light cameras, in part because of legal concerns. Attorney Brett Luskin says one snag is that in Florida law concerning motor vehicles are exclusively the domain of the state, not local governments.
BRETT LUSKIN: The rules of the road are governed by state law and they have to be uniform throughout the state. You can't have a different law for what you can and can't do on the road in one part of the state than you do in another part.
ALLEN: But citations issued using the red light cameras aren't traffic violations. They're treated as civil code infractions. Car owners, not the drivers, are sent notices, including fines that can run up to $500 in some cases. Luskin says the cameras are unfair to motorists and he fears the harbinger of worse things to come.
LUSKIN: This is the starting point for a George Orwell nightmare where we're going to see, you know, if these things are validated - then we're going to see cameras on every street corner.
ALLEN: In Pembroke Pines, Vice Mayor Angelo Castillo denies that his city put in the cameras to generate revenue. The camera is expected to produce about $800,000 a year in a city with an annual budget of $160 million. He says there's only one thing motivating city officials and that's safety.
CASTILLO: In south Florida, increasingly, a yellow light has become a signal to speed up. So not only are they going through the red lights, they're going through the red lights speeding.
ALLEN: Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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