Red-light camera offenders in Florida could see large refunds

MIAMI -- The recent mid-term elections underscored that, among other things, voters don't like red-light cameras much -- rejecting their use in a series of ballot measures around the country. Nowhere are they more prevalent than in the state of Florida, where a recent legal challenge may lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds to motorists.

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Cynthia Calkin
CBS News

"As I was in the intersection, it seemed to have immediately turned red," said 61-year-old Cynthia Calkin, who received two tickets for running a red light at an intersection in Boca Raton. Both tickets were captured by a traffic camera.

"I just think this is not the right way to go about giving people tickets," Calkin said.

It's a reaction shared by many in recent years as red-light cameras have proliferated -- popping up in nearly 500 cities nationwide.

Law enforcement agencies claim they reduce the number of fatalities and injuries caused by drivers who run red lights. But critics call them a money grab -- pointing to the $55 million the state of Florida collected in 2013.

"It's a money-making issue disguised as a safety project," said attorney Ted Hollander, who has been challenging the legality of red-light cameras in Florida for years.

"I'd like to see the camera companies take their camera somewhere else and let's put some police officers back to work," he said.

Hollander may be one step closer to that goal. Last year, an appeals court found that the city of Hollywood gave "unfettered discretion" to American Traffic Solutions, a private Arizona camera company, in flagging red-light violations. This could lead to several hundred million dollars in refunds to drivers.

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CBS News

The process begins with the capturing of the images. Then, they are sent to ATS for review. If ATS determines a red-light violation has occurred, they send the evidence to the city's police department. Police click "accept" if they agree -- authorizing ATS to issue the ticket.

ATS has five cameras in Coral Gables where Edward Hudak, the city's interim police chief, approves of the system in place. CBS News asked Hudak about critics who say officers simply rubber-stamp the tickets.

"That's not the case in Coral Gables," Hudak said. "Every one of those citations in Coral Gables is reviewed by an officer and for as many as we pass through for a citation, there is also a handful that is removed at that officer's discretion."

As for Cynthia Calkin, she'll have to wait and see if she gets her refund. For now, she hopes the number of tickets ATS is issuing comes to a complete stop.