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Sarasota among Top 10 Fla. cities cashing in on red light cameras

7:37 PM, Aug 17, 2012   |    comments
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Sarasota, Florida -- Sarasota's red light cameras have generated $1 million in the first eight months while issuing 12,301 tickets, more than cities with larger populations such as Orlando, Tallahassee and Ft. Lauderdale.

Sarasota has seven cameras set up at four intersections including S. Tamiami Trail and University Parkway; S. Tuttle Ave and Bahia Vista Street; S. Tuttle and Fruitville Rd; and N. Washington Blvd and Fruitville Road. 

The city will add three more cameras this year at Bee Ridge Road and US 41.

The Sarasota Police Department receives $75 from every $158 red light ticket totaling nearly half a million dollars so far this year into its general operations budget. The rest of the money goes to the state.  

Are the red light cameras a money maker? Some say yes. Are streets safer? That depends on who you ask.

"What wrong with them is that it's an indirect tax. You are getting a $158 ticket and if don't take care of it first 30 days it's $260," says Sarasota Defense Attorney David Haenel who takes on many clients with red light tickets.

"We get more complaints in this office saying I'm not the driver," Haenel says.

"I do think it's automated revenue. They don't have to have the police stop you run a light they get more revenue less work," says Sarasota motorist John Rich.

Sensors on the road detect a speeding vehicle approaching the intersection. The camera takes two pictures capturing the vehicle crossing during the red light. Leisha Miller says her husband recently received a red light ticket. Miller says the cameras make the roads safer.

"He was mad for the first couple of days that he had to pay that much money," Miller says. "Now, he stops at every yellow light."

Sgt. Bryan Graham who oversees the red light cameras says the cameras were placed at some of the city's ten most dangerous intersections to improve traffic safety--not to make money. 

Police records appear to reflect that. 

Monthly reports show tickets dropped from 2,103 tickets in May to 1,215 in July with just 569 tickets so far this month. The same report shows only 68 percent of motorists who have been ticketed have paid the fine without a penalty.

"They craft, or cloak, it by saying they prevent red light accidents it may prevent T-bone accidents and the jury is out on that," says Haenel. "Literature from the National Motor Association says you have more rear end collision especially people know the cameras are at the intersections."

A USF study finds cities with red light cameras have 25 percent more traffic fatalities. The true test for Florida will come in October. The state's 71 cities and counties with red light cameras will submit a report to the governor on traffic accidents and tickets issued at these intersections. The report will show if the red cameras are making a difference.

Isabel Mascarenas

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