Some “Red Light Districts” in Florida are no fun at all

I could have killed him but chose not to and it cost me.

As with many Florida summer days, a brief shower had turned an oily six-lane road into a frictionless surface fit only for Physics 101 experiments. However, it was the most direct route home.

Unexpectedly, the car in front of me flinched at the apparition of a yellow light and stopped short. From a comfy four-car-lengths distance behind, I applied my brakes which did a catch-and-release act with the blacktop. Going forward, my garnet four-door Dodge truck would have surely crushed the other driver’s blue Japanese Somethingorother compact.

Not wanting to have his soul on my conscience, or skin up my FSU tailgating vehicle, I used my emergency driver training to feather my brakes and smoothly pass his stopped vehicle on the left and continue through the vacant intersection.

Several weeks later I received evidence of my driving skill in the mail in the form of a red-light camera remote traffic citation. As it had arrived from out-of-state, the piece looked like junk mail to me. After I opened it, I was convinced.

For the few uniformed readers, many municipalities across Florida have begun using automated traffic cameras as their alternative to video poker slot machines to raise revenue. Instead of having marked (or even unmarked) police vehicles on the streets as reminders and enforcers of good driving, we now have Robocop-on-a-pole.

In the 2014 Florida Legislature, Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) have both said that they favor doing away with the red light cameras. You would think that, with a GOP-controlled House and Senate, as well as a Republican Governor, it would be a done deal to repeal. As FSU alum and ESPN analyst Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend!”

Even though traffic stats show no statistically significant change in accidents where red light cameras are deployed, the Florida League of Cities and its ilk are loath to kill this sacred cash cow. There is also the governmental inertia to never give up power once it has been put in place. (A personal aside: Back home in my native Texas, the Legislature only meets every other year and still seems to pass enough laws to govern a bigger state. I’m just sayin’…)

My dispute with this issue has nothing to do with governmental avarice or a desire to turn Florida’s roads into an unregulated demolition derby. It’s philosophical.

As an Objectivist, I really can’t argue with facts. My truck was, indeed, in the intersection under a crimson glow. As Michael Palin said in a Monty Python episode, “It’s a fair cop. I done it all.”

I took my time about paying the fine and stretched to the last hour, looking for some means to have my Atticus Finch moment in court. However, this system, safely ensconced in the Florida Statutes and the Florida Administrative Code, is stacked against the accused.

The forms offer limited options to protest a red-light-camera ticket, such as the vehicle not being driven by you. So, if a family member, a friend, a mechanic doing a road test, or a car thief making a getaway had been driving, I could have dodged the ticket (no pun intended; sometimes they just happen.). I have no living family and almost never loan my vehicles so that is out.

Had I found a loophole by which to challenge the ticket, I still would not have gotten a day in open court; I would have been in a conference room with a State-appointed administrative hearing officer. Therefore, none of the rules of court procedure would have applied. This means that I would not get to challenge the evidence, such as requiring the State to produce the maintenance and synchronization of the camera, as you can do in challenging radar guns. I could not request all of the evidence against me via discovery. With more than the three-second online clip, it would have shown the car ahead of me stopping short and rolling over the white line (I wonder if he got a Robo-ticket, too.) AND that there was no cross traffic in the seconds that followed me.

I also would not have the Constitutional right to confront my accuser who would be some out-of-state data clerk and not a sworn and certified Florida law enforcement officer.

There is the real rub. In my half-century on this planet, including over a decade in government, I have known plenty of local, county, state, Federal and international peace officers. To a person, they have been among the best people I have known, professional, courteous, and dedicated.

Had a real cop pulled me over, I could have explained my reasoning and I bet that 99 percent of the time, I’d have heard something like “That was all you could do. Be careful out there.”

However, you can’t reason with a camera on a stick …

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About drronthomasjr

Dr. Ron Thomas, Jr. teaches journalism at Full Sail University in Orlando, FL. Dr. Thomas also heads Thomas Consulting Group, a consortium of professionals in leadership, crisis management, and media relations.
This entry was posted in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Some “Red Light Districts” in Florida are no fun at all

  1. frederick johnsen says:

    Oh yes, the cash cow of traffic fines and red light pictures. I once got popped for no helmet in Louisiana. The fine was $75 the fees were $125. From my experience and your story the US seems to be reverting into a feudal society where the peasants are being taxed to fund the schemes of the lords, with not recourse to the law. But, hey, what do I know. According to some I am just a paranoid nut.

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