“Red Light Traffic Camera” Discussion.

| August 29, 2011

“Saving a single life justifies the use of cameras in streetlights” … Doral City Council”

By Dominique Barba.

In the recent meeting of the Doral City Council, councilman Luigi Boria requested a review of this project with the following motion:  The implementation of the Red Traffic Light Camera programs in many cities across South Florida has been problematic, particularly with respect to prosecution in the courts and the level of actual revenues that being collected. Some cities have even suspended or terminated their programs. As Doral is now rolling out its program, I think it would be a good opportunity for the council to revisit any issues and collectively determine whether we want to continue to move forward.” Council member Boria stated that the traffic light camera tickets were a form of unnecessary taxation, and that he believes that warning will suffice given that such infractions have to do more with people’s conscience and should not be imposed. He spoke on instances in which the light changes can be dangerous, as people will brake hard or accelerate very rapidly to avoid the fine. He insisted that a good portion of drivers are not very familiar with traffic laws and that they should focus on educating drivers before punishing those who commit infractions. Council member Boria’s comments were based on a private survey in which 7 out of 10 persons did not want the program.

The response from the mayor, the chief of Police, and the members of the council was determinant:

The Mayor indicated that the only purpose of the project was to guarantee the life and safety of the residents since the accident in intersections are far too often and far too serious and thus it is the duty of the city’s authorities to protect its residents and visitors. He assured the implementation of the program does not violate any constitutional right (following the decision of a Broward court) and it is not a form of taxation given that by definition a tax would affect even those who do not commit the infractions, and that is clearly not the case. The mayor accepted that the project should be monitored over the course of a year and only then can it be evaluated. He insisted that it should be tested and will only be utilized if it demonstrates results. Since the city was formed, there have been 67 traffic casualties, and that number should be any higher.

The city Police Chief, Captain Rick Gomez, presented the following statistics. In 2006, there were 4,200 collisions, 4,300 in 2007, and the number dropped to 3,400 and has stayed that way since the police department was instituted in 2008. The police see the traffic light cameras in a very good way given that similar experiences in other cities have helped significantly reduce accidents. The chief of police also mentioned that there have been numerous efforts to educate the population, especially now that the school year is starting, though information sessions with PTAs, principals and administrators.

Vice Mayor Michael Di Prieto indicated that the 90-day warning period was indeed respected and that they tried to educate residents as much as possible to follow the law.  He added that making a right turn on a red light, without stopping, is a traffic violation. This is taught in driving schools and thus following the correct regulations will never lead to an infraction. He also agreed that it is too early to make a decision on the project given that it is still in its initial phase. He proposed to include informational videos in the city’s TV channel (77) as well as further push for community education.

Council member Ana Maria Rodriguez fully supports the project, assuring that it the only goal is to save lives and make the city safer, based on the idea that people are conscious that if the follow the law, there is nothing to worry about.

Council member Pete Cabrera also stated that traffic has dramatically increased in recent years and it takes extreme measures to solve the problems associated with the influx of cars. He added that in cities where the project has been implemented the motives behind it were not economic but rather for safety, as is the case in Doral. As part of the efforts to improve the system, council member Cabrera proposed the installation of timers to warn drivers of when the light will change.

Doral Family Journal surveyed adults and teens of ages 15 through 18 in which 9 out of 10 were in favor of the project. Those who opposed it indicated that they were worried about being unjustly ticketed or getting in an accident when the light changes rapidly.

We took our concerns to Mayor Bermudez who kindly gave us an interview:

1)    DFJ: The main concern that people have is which is the main reason for placing the cameras in some intersections?

JCB: “The main reason is safety, we are interested in saving lives and this is one way of doing it. The economic aspect is not a motive but rather a measure. This is not a tax but rather a way of doing things right and following the law”

2)    DFJ: What is the process when a photo is taken, can it be appealed, what happens if you pass while it is changing, what about possible errors?

JCB: “Certainly you can appeal, it is a constitutional right. Also, the process is not so simple, first the company in charge reviews the infraction and then if a police officer sees that there are no infractions, or it is not clear, it is discarded. We know that nothing is perfect, hence the additional controls and the right to appeal.”

3)    DFJ: How much does this project cost to the city?

JCB: “ The investment is 100% by the company that installed the cameras, this project does cost anything, as is the law. The revenue from traffic tickets are split between the company, the county (for hospitals and trauma centers), and the city.

4)    DFJ: Council member Cabrera spoke of the use of timers, is that possible?

JCB: “It is a very good idea and it can be financed with the revenue this project gives to the city. We will work on this and other additional things.

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