Red light cameras: Some Florida cities not following law when it comes to monitoring accident data

Law requires monitoring, reporting of data

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Cities and towns in Palm Beach County alone have collected more than $12 million in red light camera violations. 

But the Contact 5 Investigators discovered some cities aren't following state law when it comes to keeping track of and reporting accidents at red light intersections.

Some drivers get angry when they see they've been caught on a red light camera after have to pay a $158 ticket. 

But Melissa Wandall sees something else when looking at the technology.

"I'll see the camera and I'll just see his face," Wandall said.

Just weeks before giving birth, Melissa's husband was killed by a red light runner in Florida.

"There were lights, there were sirens everywhere and my whole world just stopped," she said.

Melissa fought to pass a traffic law named after her husband for using red light cameras in Florida. 

"He had to unfortunately lose his life so other lives could be saved," Wandall said.

At this time in 2011, police officers in Juno Beach and West Palm Beach told Contact 5 Investigator Dan Krauth they needed more time to find out if the cameras were helping to cut down on accidents like they intended them to do.

"We need at least another year or two years to determine the true effectiveness of the program," said then Assistant Police Chief Dennis Crispo who ran the city of West Palm Beach's red light program.

Today, city leaders say they still don't know.

"So far the results are basically inconclusive," said Juno Beach Police Chief Brian Smith.

But in Juno Beach, numbers show accidents went down at one intersection by 30% but increased at three other intersections.  At the corner of Donald Ross and Ellison Wilson, accidents jumped by 100 percent.  The Contact 5 Investigators compared the numbers two years before and two years after the cameras went up.

"It's a statistics game," said chief Smith. "Six to twelve accidents is not a big enough number to really come to a definite conclusion so, over a longer period of time, we'll actually have a better idea of how the program is working," he said.

The city of West Palm Beach has had the cameras the longest, but a city spokesperson told the Contact 5 Investigators they haven't been keeping track of accidents at red light intersections.

Plus, West Palm Beach isn't alone.  A dozen other cities did not report crash statistics to the state, even though they're required to each year by state law. The law Melissa Wandall helped create.

"The camera program is not going to work if you don't do A to Z," she said.

If you run a red light, you're paying a fine. If cities don't report the numbers, the Department of Highway Safety said there's nothing they can do about it. The Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act doesn't lay out consequence for cities which don't report the information.

"In terms of any kind of enforcement authority over those municipalities, the department doesn't have that," said Leslie Palmer, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Now, Florida State Senator Maria Sachs said she wants to do some tracking of her own.  She's now making inquiries into accident statistics for cities in her district. 

"We need the hard data, so I'll be very interested to see what comes out of this because it may be that we need to impose fines on those municipalities who don't obey," said Senator Sachs. 

As for why West Palm Beach hasn't followed the reporting law, the mayor and police chief would not talk to NewsChannel 5 on camera about the issue .

But they did talk during a recent city commission meeting.

"Previously they were in locations that were not highly trafficked so it was really hard for us to do a before and after," said mayor Jeri Muoio to the city commission.

The mayor and police chief said the cameras weren't installed in the right locations in the first place, at the area's busiest intersections.

Despite the placement of the cameras and not monitoring and reporting the numbers, the commission voted to install another 52 cameras at 25 intersections throughout the city.

View Red Light Camera Intersections in South Florida in a larger map

The mayor told the commission the city will monitor and track the new cameras once they begin issuing tickets.

"Of course it's going to get a bad eye because people are going to say ‘What are the statistics?' and you say ‘Well, I really don't know what those statistics are,' well then it's your own fault for people yelling and screaming," Wandall said.

Investigative Producer Lynn Walsh contributed to this story.










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