Chances are pretty high that if you drive through a red light at one of Palm Beach County’s 35 camera-enforced intersections, you won’t get a ticket.
Statistics show that of the more than 115,000 pictures of drivers taken last year by red-light cameras in West Palm Beach, Juno Beach, Boynton Beach and unincorporated parts of the county, about 70 percent were rejected. That means only about 30 percent of photos taken have turned into $158 citations, according to reports from June 2012 to June 2013.
The cameras, meant to improve safety and deter drivers who barrel through intersections illegally, have been a contentious issue since they were first installed in West Palm Beach.
There are several reasons for the high rejection rate of photos — over 80 percent at seven red-light cameras.
A portion of image rejections come from the camera not being able to get a decent photo of the incriminating license plate, either because of bad weather, an obstructed plate or no plate at all.
More rejections are specified by counties and municipalities, said Charles Territo, spokesman for American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that installs and operates the camera systems for Juno Beach, Boynton Beach, West Palm Beach and the unincorporated areas of the county.
When the cameras take the photos, ATS looks at them first. The company can decide to reject the photos, and the remaining get sent to a law officer in the respective municipalities, or the county, for review. That officer makes the ultimate decision on whether to issue a citation.
“Some cities say reject all right on red. The cameras still capture it, but it depends if the city wants to get that information sent to them or not,” Territo said.
Another common rejection comes when cars make a “hard stop,” or enter an intersection but don’t go through it. “Technically, they’ve violated the law, but oftentimes the business rules call for us to reject those,” Territo said.
Funerals and emergency vehicle processions, and a flagman waving traffic through are also common causes for rejection.
Juno Beach is the only city using cameras to make money from right-on-red violations.
Juno Beach, Boynton Beach and Palm Springs made profits on their cameras last year, but not West Palm Beach or Palm Beach County. Palm Springs recently stopped processing tickets for red-light violations captured on camera due to a new law that requires counties and municipalities to hire a magistrate to hear ticket appeals.
Palm Beach County has not made money from the cameras since they were installed 19 months ago. During that time, ATS has been paid more than $568,000 to operate the system.
That is partly because the county offers drivers a discretionary cushion as cars enter an intersection, said Dan Weisberg, director of Palm Beach County traffic division.
“If a driver crosses into the intersection up to .4 seconds into the red light, we do not issue a citation,” he said. He cited this as the largest reason revenues aren’t up to cost, saying that it amounts to “a 40 to 50 percent reduction [in potential revenue].”
In unincorporated Palm Beach County, the cameras at the westbound intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Jog Road had 68 percent of images rejected — the highest rate in the unincorporated county. The highest rejection rate of all, however, is the West Palm Beach intersection of Summit Boulevard and Parker Avenue, where red-light cameras rejected 96 percent of images taken.
“As good as technology is, there is never a substitute for the human eye. While the cameras take many images, each one is carefully reviewed to see if the picture shows a violation,” said Elliot Cohen, director of communications for West Palm Beach. “We do this to make sure that only people who should get a citation actually receive one.”
In Juno Beach, the intersection with the most rejections was at U.S. 1 and Universe Boulevard, at 84 percent. Juno Beach police officials had no comment.
In Boynton Beach, 79 percent of red-light camera images at Woolbright Road and Congress Avenue were rejected, the highest of the town’s 11 cameras. Police spokeswoman Stephanie Slater said that even though some intersections have a high rejection rate, they are still doing their job.
“Our accidents have gone down since we’ve had red-light cameras,” Slater said. “And that shows that driver behavior has changed. We haven’t had any traffic fatalities at those intersections, so that proves that they are saving lives.”
As to whether red-light cameras reduce accidents in Palm Beach County, new reports show mixed results, with accidents at county intersections with red-light traffic cameras down by 2 percent, while those without the devices saw a 12 percent drop in crashes.
Regardless, commissioners have agreed that Palm Beach County will stick with red-light cameras for at least another year.