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Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014
Editorials

An appealing red-light camera fix

Published:

Love them or hate them, the cameras that capture red-light offenders in the act are becoming a fixture at busy intersections.

But there are some kinks in the system that need ironing out. A measure by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, addresses the most troublesome of those kinks and in the process makes the system fairer for those caught in the cameraís eye.

The measure is part of a transportation bill that is awaiting the signature of Gov. Rick Scott. We think the changes are a necessary part of the evolution of a technology that makes our roads safer. The governor should sign the bill with the red-light camera changes intact.

The measure gives due process rights to drivers who challenge a citation, expands the number of days drivers can appeal a citation, prevents municipalities and counties from citing drivers who fail to come to a complete stop at the stop line before turning right on red, and establishes a new appeals process.

Because of flaws in the current law, drivers behind the wheel of a rental car, or a vehicle owned by a friend or relative, are not afforded the option to pay the minimum $158 fine within 30 days of being cited. Instead, they are subject to a $264 fine and face a mark on their driving record that motorists behind the wheel of their own cars do not face. In addition, the current law assesses the higher fine of $264 for those who appeal and lose.

The new measure awaiting the governorís signature gives drivers 60 days to appeal a citation. It gives the drivers of rental cars or other vehicles owned by someone else the option to pay the minimum $158 fine and avoid having a mark on their record. It also eliminates the higher fine for those who appeal. These changes should give ample time for all drivers to either pay the lower fine or give notice of appeal.

But another change will need monitoring. The appeals will now be managed by cities and counties that collect the fines. The specifics of how the process will be set up remains to be worked out.

One concern is that putting local hearing officers in charge, and having administrative fees that could reach a maximum of $250 for an unsuccessful appeal, will tilt the appeals process in favor of the governments that collect the revenue from the red-light violations.

The potential for a $250 administrative fee for appealing a $158 fine is excessive and we hope those managing the appeals will assess much lower administrative costs.

Overall, though, we think this bill goes a long way toward making the system fairer for the accused, whether guilty or innocent.

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