Monday, April 19, 2010

Double jeopardy?

There's some bad news for drivers on South Beach who regularly press their luck by running red lights.

According to this blog post on the Miami Herald's web site, Miami Beach's red light cameras went operational at nine intersections citywide last Thursday, April 15.

More and more cities nationwide are turning to red light cameras for several reasons. The number one reason is they raise money for cash-strapped city governments. They also work 24 hours a day and you'll never catch one taking a coffee break at a donut shop.

How do the cameras work?

Miami Beach's web site explains:
The Dangerous Intersection Safety Program’s camera system is synchronized to the traffic signal using non-invasive detection equipment.

The camera system only photographs a vehicle if it enters the intersection after the light has turned red. A second photograph is taken as the vehicle progresses through the intersection.

Vehicles that enter intersection on a yellow light phase are not photographed; even if they are still in the intersection when the light changes to the red phases. The technology is designed to record motorists as they enter an intersection after the signal turns red.

The camera photographs the vehicle from the rear – not the driver. The camera records the date time, lane, location, and speed of the vehicle.

This information is included on the Notice of Infraction and is then evaluated by specially trained members of the Miami Beach Police Department to verify that an infraction has occurred and to determine whether a Notice of Infraction should be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.
Miami Beach's web site lists the red light camera locations:

  • Washington Ave. at 17th St. – Eastbound

  • Washington Ave at 17th St. – Southbound

  • Chase Ave. and Alton Rd. – Northbound

  • 63rd St. and Indian Creek Dr. – Southbound

  • 41st St. and Prairie Ave. – Northbound

  • 71st St. and Indian Creek Dr. – Northbound

  • Dade Blvd. and 23rd St. – Westbound

  • Alton Rd. and 17th St. – Westbound

  • Washington Ave. and Dade Blvd. – Eastbound

  • What the Herald story or the city's web site don't say is that Miami Beach cops can still write tickets at all of those intersections if they witness a violation.

    One Miami Beach traffic enforcement cop told me, "If I see someone run a red light, I'm writing a ticket."

    And he says, "It's up to the driver who receives a mailed ticket in addition to my written ticket to prove that he or she was ticketed by an officer."

    How does one do that? From the city's web site:
    If you feel you received a notice of infraction erroneously or if you have a legal justification for going through the red light, you may contest your violation on an appeal hearing. On the back of your notice of infraction are instructions for filing an appeal with the City of Miami Beach Special Master.
    Just the hassle of that should be enough to deter a driver from running a red light.

    If that's not enough, the fines for first, second and third violation should make someone think twice:
    A red light violation carries a civil penalty of $125 City-mandated fine for first occurrence, $250 for the second, and up to $500 for a third and any subsequent offense.
    That's the bad news. The good news is that tickets generated by red light cameras don't add points to a driver's record.

    But there will also be instances where someone other than the registered owner of a vehicle runs a light. The ticket will be mailed to the registered owner who has to sort it out!

    Several local law firms that specialize in traffic ticket cases told me today that they won't be handling red light camera generated tickets.

    A receptionist at one of these firms told me, "It's like a parking ticket; you don't get points."

    But that didn't stop former state trooper Adolph Belt Jr. from contesting a $100 ticket he got for running a red light in Springfield, MO.

    He fought the ticket saying "the city's use of administrative hearings to handle red light camera violations is in conflict with state law."

    The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously agreed and threw out the fine.

    In another red light camera case - also (ironically) involving police officers - two years ago two Texas police officers contested tickets they got from red light cameras while on duty!.

    But if all of this sounds like one more example of government trampling on your rights or intruding in your life, my law enforcement source has a quick answer: "Just tell your readers not to run red lights!"

    Fair enough.

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