More Brevard towns eye traffic cameras

Devices identify red-light runners, issue warnings, tickets to violators


Satellite Beach is the latest of several Brevard County municipalities researching traffic cameras and their role in reducing accidents caused by running red lights.

"I have helped too many injured people out of cars," said Jeff Pearson, operations commander at the Satellite Beach Police Department.

Pearson believes traffic cameras at busy intersections could help. Studies show they reduce accidents, but citizens often dislike the idea of government watching them electronically.

"We are still in the evaluation phase," Pearson said. "Public comment will be very important."

Last month, Larry Mathieson of Traffipax, a traffic safety systems company, made a presentation to the city council and explained the benefits of cameras, which can be used to issue warning letters or citations.

"They work. People drive more carefully," Mathieson said.

The Florida Department of Transportation does not endorse these cameras, he said. Any town or municipality opting for them would have to enact their own ordinance. As a result, red light violators would pay a fine, but no points would be deducted from their license, Mathieson said.

Cocoa Beach resident Pat Gralla favors traffic cameras.

"I think many of the people who run red lights are tourists," she said.

Gralla, who formerly lived in Satellite Beach, said red-light running was common on State Road A1A.

James Patton of Montreal, Canada, who comes to Cocoa Beach every winter, wasn't so sure about the cameras.

"Big Brother is never a good thing," he said. "But if it helps, then do it."

Mathieson made a similar presentation to the city of Cocoa Beach late last year. Since then, the city attorney has been drafting an ordinance that will come up for discussion before the council. Mathieson said that Traffipax usually installs the camera for free and takes a cut from the violation notices sent to vehicle owners, usually $20 to $30 depending on the agreement with a particular municipality.

Cameras photograph the license plates of cars that run red lights. The owners are mailed tickets. Cameras with radar can be set up to trap speeders.

"If the commissioners go for it, Traffipax will come in and do a survey about what intersections need the cameras," said Charles Holland, assistant finance director for Cocoa Beach.

Holland wasn't sure when the ordinance would come up for discussion.

The city of Melbourne recently ran a pilot project with similar cameras for a year at the intersection of Hibiscus and Airport boulevards.

"We sent out just under 500 letters of warning to violators during that period," said Sgt. Sean Riordan of the Melbourne Police Department.

The warning citations were from a period between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2006.

According to a report between mid-December 2005 and June 1, 2006, red-light violations at that intersection went down by 89 percent.

Riordan said the camera system in some intersections of the city still was an option.

"We have to do a lot of research on how other cities are proceeding with this," he said. "We do not want to reinvent the wheel."

The city of Melbourne might also research the effectiveness of speed cameras in school zones.

"Our goal is not revenue. Our goal is safety," Melbourne Police Cmdr. Mark Laderwarg said. "With the cameras, we can double our resources."

The city of Gulf Breeze in the Panhandle began using the cameras to issue citations last March. A camera was installed at an intersection on U.S. 98, a route with a traffic count of 50,000 cars a day.

"Ninety-five percent of our crashes occur on the highway," Chief Peter Paulding said.

He said crashes have gone down by 8 percent since the cameras were installed.

"The reductions are a reflection of the utility of traffic cameras," he said.

Violators pay a $100 fine.

Representatives from Miami-Dade, Cape Coral, Orlando and Apopka have contacted Paulding to learn more about the cameras.

"We now get four or five inquiries a week from other cities," Paulding said.

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