Friday, August 10, 2007

Big Brother Is Watching You In Orlando

The government spy cameras have arrived in Orlando.

Do you want to lay a bet that within five years a police camera will be on most corners in Downtown Orlando watching our every move? Welcome to the age of Big Brother and "1984."
Red-light runners, beware: Cameras, fines coming
Jay Hamburg

Sentinel Staff Writer

August 10, 2007

By year's end, Orlando plans to start hitting red-light runners where it hurts: in their pocketbooks.

On Thursday, Mayor Buddy Dyer revealed the first 10 intersections scheduled to get cameras that will nab motorists who plow through intersections.

The plan is to get photographic proof of vehicles that have driven through the crosswalk after a light turns red. The city will send the owner of the vehicle a copy of the photo and a bill for $125 for the first two violations and $250 for the third.

"The message should be clear," Dyer said. "Obey the traffic light, or we will lighten your wallets."

All 10 are among the city's 25 most-dangerous intersections. Busy intersections such as State Road 436 and S.R. 50 were not included because they are outside city limits. Some dangerous intersections are not targeted because they are under control of the state, which doesn't allow red-light cameras on its property.

The intersections will be posted with signs warning drivers about the cameras. But Dyer added that to deter red-light runners, "we will probably post some intersections that don't have cameras, as well." The camera will be portable enough to move to other sites.

The first intersections to get cameras will be Colonial Drive at Garland Avenue; Colonial Drive at Magnolia Avenue; Robinson Street at Rosalind Avenue; Orange Avenue at Michigan Street; Dixie Belle Drive at Michigan Street; Gore Street at Orange Blossom Trail; John Young Parkway at L.B. McLeod Road; Kirkman Road at Conroy Road; Kirkman Road at Vineland Road; and Kirkman Road at Major Boulevard.

To avoid potential conflict with state statutes, Orlando plans to cite and fine the owners of vehicles that run red lights, as if the act were a code violation similar to a parking ticket. No points will be deducted from a driver's license.

For privacy concerns, the photos will show the vehicle and the license plate but will not identify the driver.

Apopka and Gulf Breeze are among a handful of governments already using red-light cameras, but Orlando is by far the largest government in the state with plans to use them.

Orange County recently declined to pursue a similar program after county attorney Tom Drage warned that, without specific state approval, the county would risk getting sued.

But Orlando officials think they are on solid legal ground with the proposed ordinance that still requires two votes of approval by City Council members in the coming months. The council, however, already has signaled its unanimous support of the idea, and Dyer wants the cameras clicking away before the new year.

"We think it's an appropriate step to take to save lives," city attorney Mayanne Downs said.

Red-light running accounts for at least 100 fatalities and more than 6,300 injuries a year in Florida. There were more than 450 red-light-running crashes in Orlando last year.

"Bottom line is that red-light cameras can save lives," Dyer said.

The setup will cost $50,000 to $60,000 per intersection. Orlando officials expect the red-light fines to pay for the program. Any extra revenue could be used to install more cameras.

Orlando police Chief Mike McCoy said the program is designed to change behavior, not fill city coffers.

"We're not here to raise a bunch of money," McCoy said. "We want you to stop running the lights."

So does Wendy Michaels, an Orange County resident who suffered a broken neck when a red-light runner broadsided the car in which she was riding.

After two years of recovery, she still has a lot of pain and partial paralysis from the accident that occurred in Illinois.

She cheered Thursday's announcement, saying that even during her current five-mile commute, she sees at least one red-light runner every day.

"It just breaks my heart," said Michaels, who works as a mortgage lender.

Asked what she would say to those running red lights: "Oh, you don't want to know that."

Jay Hamburg can be reached at or 407-420-5673.

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