By KEVIN BRADY
A red light camera at the main entrance to the Westfield Brandon Mall has generated more citations than any intersection in the county this year.
The camera at Brandon Town Center and Brandon Boulevard saw 4,006 citations issued from Jan. 1 through June 30, according to figures obtained by the Observer from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
Overall, 12,040 citations for red light violations were issued in the county in the first six months of this year. The popular Brandon intersection accounts for 33 percent of those tickets.
However, Brandon drivers do appear to be getting the message, with 865 fewer violations this year compared with the first six months of 2012. The mall camera generated 4,871 citations from January to June in 2012.
A camera at Bell Shoals Road and Bloomingdale Avenue generated 853 citations between January and June this year, down from 1,369 for the first six months of 2012.
The cameras actually flag thousands more drivers than are cited but with each potential citation reviewed by two experienced deputies, 25 to 30 percent of those are tossed out, according to the sheriff’s office.
So why so many citations at the Brandon mall entrance?
“That’s typically our busiest intersection,” said Corp. Adam Brescia, who oversees the red light camera program for the sheriff’s office. “There’s also a lot of bottlenecking because so many people are exiting the mall at one time. It’s a high-transit area.”
Drawing shoppers from across the county, many unaware there’s a camera eyeing vehicles 24 hours a day, may also play a part, Brescia believes.
“It’s close to Interstate 75 so there are also people going there from other areas.”
County drivers have been navigating red light cameras since Dec. 29, 2009 when the hidden eyes in the sky were installed at six intersections. Cameras also monitor traffic at Sligh and Habana Avenues (384 citations so far this year), Waters Avenue at Dale Mabry Highway (1,590 citations so far this year), and Anderson Road (1,801 citations so far this year) and Fletcher Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard (3,406 citations so far this year). Tampa uses the cameras to catch red-light runners at 24 intersections in the city.
In all, 21 states and more than 50 Florida counties and cities use the cameras. Statewide, 404 intersections are equipped with red light cameras, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Motorists might avoid getting nabbed on the scene after running a red light but the law makes sure they pay up with a $158 fine. Of that, $75 goes to the county or city where the violation occurred with the remainder going to the state. The fine increases to $264 if not paid within 30 days. No points are assessed on a driver’s license and motorists can appeal the tickets in traffic court.
The company that installed the cameras — American Traffic Solutions, in Hillsborough County — is paid $4,750 per month, per camera. The company maintains 10 cameras at the six intersections.
Complaints over allowing drivers only 30 days to pay fines were addressed by the state legislature earlier this year. Drivers now have 60 days to pay fines — no points are assessed on anyone’s license — and can have their case heard before a county hearing officer if they appeal the ticket.
Tallahassee also voted to eliminate tickets for drivers who make a right on red after coming to a full stop although Hillsborough County does not issue citations for making a right on red.
“We have two deputies, one with 35 years of experience and the other with 17 years on the job, who review each and every violation,” Brescia said. “They have an expert eye and when they feel there is a reasonable doubt they throw the citation out.”
Opponents of the cameras say they make intersections more dangerous, encouraging some drivers to rush while others slam on the brakes at the first sign of a yellow light for fear of a ticket.
Nonsense, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report released earlier this year.
“The most common outcome since the installation of red light cameras is a decrease in traffic crashes,” said the report. “Forty-three percent [of the agencies overseeing the cameras] noticed a reduction in side-impact crashes, with 41 percent experiencing a reduction in rear-end crashes, while 56 percent of the agencies experienced a total reduction in crashes at red light camera intersections,” concluded the report.
“The cameras promote safer driving,” Brescia said. “If the camera turns amber and I slow down, that is telling the driver behind me that the light is changing and that I am about to stop.”
While cameras are commonplace in Europe, Americans are getting used to them, said Brescia, who has been overseeing the sheriff’s office traffic camera program for seven months.
“I have been here since January and have received just five calls for more than 12,000 citations, and I am the liaison for the program. That tells me our community is accepting of the program.”