Winter Park gives red-light cameras a green light

Cameras peer at passing cars near Temple Drive in Winter Park.

Cameras peer at passing cars near Temple Drive in Winter Park.

Tim Freed

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Winter Park Commissioners voted to continue the use of red light cameras during Monday’s City Commission meeting – a contrast to the state legislature who might ban the devices early next year.

The city originally purchased a three-year red light camera agreement with Gatso USA back in 2009, now choosing to renew their services for another year.

Vice Mayor Sarah Sprinkel spoke in support of the red light cameras, noting them as an asset to the community.

“Why do this if it’s not having some kind of positive impact on your community?” Sprinkel said. “Because no, we don’t want it to be just another source for income.”

But talk among Florida residents and politicians continues to question the usefulness of red light cameras. A bill currently in the pipeline at the state level aims to ban red light cameras altogether.

The Senate’s Transportation Committee Chairman Jeff Brandes filed the bill early last month, believing that the cameras are simply an alternative source of revenue for municipalities.

“We just have to wait and see where the legislature acts out on it,” said City Commissioner Steven Leary. “Let them have the discussion, see where they are, see if we agree with it and see what we can do.”

Leary remained confident that the red light cameras ultimately make roads safer and help police officers spot hit-and-run incidents by capturing photographic evidence.

“There seems to be conflicting information on whether they’re creating more safety,” Leary said. “I think that if people know they’re there, people will slow down and not go through them.”

In May, June and July of this year, between 1,400 and 1,600 red light camera violations occurred each month. Winter Park police records show that 15 to 20 percent of those ticketed tried to fight back, appealing their citations.

City Commissioners nearly triggered more public ire in July when they came within a single vote of doubling the fee residents must pay to challenge red light camera citations. The City Commission voted to hold the line at $137 as opposed to the proposed $250.

For Winter Park Police Deputy Chief Arthur King, the issue of safety transcends any concerns with finance or politics.

“Red light cameras are for one thing: for safety, to protect the motorist,” King said. “If those cameras can save one life a year, there’s no amount of money in the world that can equate to that.”

“It can reduce crashes, you can’t compare dollars to something like that – it’s safety, that’s why it’s so important.”