The Sarasota City Commission approved an ordinance on first reading allowing the city to move forward with traffic-light cameras.
Sarasota Police Capt. Paul Sutton told the commission that the city of Sarasota had 42 traffic fatalities from October 2005 through October 2010, 20 of which occurred at intersections regulated by traffic lights.
Of the city’s 383 injury accidents that occurred in the past year, 219 occurred at intersections regulated by traffic lights, Sutton said, although he did not know how many of those crashes were directly related to running red lights.
“I see a need to improve safety at intersections with traffic signals,” he said.
Sutton told the commission that he found through research that installing cameras typically leads to an overall decrease in crashes of about 30%, with a decrease in serious, T-bone-type crashes, but an increase in rear-end crashes. The increase in rear-end crashes typically occurs in intersections with a small number of accidents to begin with — less than 10 per year — and is not seen in the more dangerous intersections that would likely be targeted by the cameras, Sutton said.
But Sarasota resident Matthew Wooddall told the commission that any potential increase in accidents as the result of the cameras would be unacceptable and that the cameras could make the city vulnerable to lawsuits.
“This is a for-profit intervention by a third party for a vital government function — law enforcement,” he said. “It should not be subbed out, period.”
Resident Barbara Langston told the commission she thinks taking action against red-light runners is “long overdue” but worried that vehicle owners could be issued citations if they allow a family member or friend to drive their vehicles.
“Do we have to go through a long legal process to prove that we were not driving the car?” she asked.
City attorney Robert Fournier said that vehicle owners who receive camera citations would have three options: pay the $158 fine, request a hearing or fill out an affidavit stating that the vehicle was not in the “care, custody or control” of the owner when the citation was issued, along with the name and driver’s license of the individual who was driving. If the vehicle was stolen at the time of the violation, a police report must be included.
Fournier said the city would need to hold a public-awareness campaign 30 days before the installation of the cameras and would be required to install signs notifying drivers of the devices.
To view a PDF chart of dangerous intersections, click here.
Contact Robin Hartill at email@example.com.