Back in 2010, when the Florida Legislature debated a change to the State’s law on the use of red light camera’s, the ‘private interests’ were obvious. Every time I saw a media story about the debate the story was accompanied by the same video footage of violent crashes at intersections. (Never mind the fact that this is a statistical anomaly – violent intersection crashes are rarely the sole product of someone who misjudges the light, by far, the most common instance cited by red light cameras). The implication, at least to me, was clear – the issue was safety. However, the end result leaves me to suspect that the motive may have been something a little different—money. Even if generating revenue was not the primary motive for the new state statute, it is certainly a lucrative byproduct. For example, a violation at a red light camera intersection will result in a “notice of violation” and a demand for payment of $158.00 within 30 days of the notice. The notice is sent to the registered owner, and very little in the relevant statute, § 316.0083, is directed at the actual person operating the vehicle. (Yes, the statute does allow the owner to escape liability by disclosing the actual driver at the time of the violation, but it seems morally corrupt to me to ask citizens to do the investigative work of the state. Furthermore, many other states require that a picture be taken of both the license plate and the driver, but Florida does not). If the owner fails to pay the fee within the 30 day window, or identify the actual drive if it wasn’t the owner, the owner will be issued a traffic citation and the fine swells to $271.00.
In the most common situation, a violation in a municipality, the $158.00 of revenue is divided in the following manner:
- $70.00 goes to the State’s General Revenue fund
- $75.00 is retained by the county or municipality where the infraction occurred
- $10.00 goes to the Department of Health Administrative Trust Fund; and
- $ 3.00 is deposited in the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Fund
I don’t know about you, but that looks like a tax scheme to me. Ironically, what was created by the cities to improve safety and traffic flow at major intersections while adding to the city revenue has been hijacked by the State Legislature. The city or county government share is further reduced by the amount that it must pay to the ‘private sector business’ that has contracted to install and maintain the red light cameras. The local government must also pay the costs for a traffic officer to review the infraction photos and video and then testify at the infraction hearing if the violator challenges the citation. The end result is the State government has intercepted 52% of the revenue in this lucrative cash stream and the cities still do all the work.