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Red-light cameras possible
The sheriff says such a system at key intersections can cut accidents and save lives.
By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 17, 2008
TAMPA - Hillsborough County may join several jurisdictions across the country that have resorted to mounting cameras at major intersections to catch red-light scofflaws.
And Sheriff's Office officials say they can set up the monitoring system without any cost to taxpayers.
The County Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously in favor of the concept. However, the sheriff's staff must hammer out details, which will be subject to a later public hearing and final vote.
"This is literally a life-or-death issue," said commission Chairman Ken Hagan, who brought the issue forward. "I'm convinced that lives will be saved by red-light cameras."
Sheriff's deputies issued 3,784 citations to drivers who ran red lights last year. The office attributed 439 crashes last year to red-light runners, with one fatality.
However, the number is likely greater, because investigators often can't prove who ran the red light when a collision occurs.
"The violations are really much, much higher than the numbers say," said Col. Greg Brown, with the Sheriff's Office.
Cities from New York to Apopka have installed cameras to stem what some county commissioners described as an epidemic of red-light running. Sheriff's officials presented studies from those and other cities showing a dramatic decrease in red-light infractions after the cameras were installed.
They said using the monitoring equipment also frees up law enforcement from having to park at intersections.
If the proposal goes through, cameras likely would go up at several major intersections in unincorporated areas, recording traffic through them. A private contractor would capture still images and video of cars passing red lights, showing how long the light was red when the vehicle passed by.
If a sheriff's deputy agrees the images are conclusive, the vehicle owner would be issued a civil citation and fine by the company. Infractions would not be considered moving violations, with insurance rate implications, but rather more like parking tickets.
Details must be worked out about how drivers may challenge citations, as well as the method of collecting fines and paying the camera company. Sheriff's officials said companies that provide the camera equipment keep a portion of the fine, with the rest going to local government.
Some companies guarantee that fines will more than offset equipment leasing costs.
"If you put one of these cameras at Dale Mabry Highway and Waters (Avenue), I assure you it will pay for itself," Cpl. Rob Rodriguez told commissioners.
Mayor Pam Iorio recently considered and scrapped a proposal to install red-light cameras in Tampa. She said some research has shown the cameras cause accidents because people slam on their brakes when lights change.
She also expressed concern about a company issuing the citations and keeping a portion of the fines.
"The jury's still out as to whether that approach works," Iorio said.
Rodriguez said some studies do suggest an initial uptick in rear-end collisions that ebbs as people get used to the cameras. He said those accidents tend to be less severe than the T-bone wrecks caused when someone runs a red light.
"The cameras don't cause rear-end collisions," Rodriguez said. "If someone is going the speed limit, they should have plenty of time to stop."
Times staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3387.