Palm Coast has decided not to make any changes to its red-light camera policy after a city review prompted when a Palm Coast hearing officer dismissed a ticket issued to Circuit Judge Dennis Craig, city spokeswoman Cindi Lane said.
Craig was presiding over injunction court when the violation happened, and at the hearing advanced a legal argument that challenged Palm Coast’s practice of treating the owner of a camera-cited vehicle as its driver.
But Palm Coast hearing officer Jennifer Barrington-Nix dismissed the ticket by saying the car’s 16-mph right-on-red was conducted “in a careful and prudent enough manner in these circumstances to dismiss the violation,” a ruling that let Craig off the hook for the ticket without addressing his legal challenge.
Acknowledging his argument would have set a precedent and potentially invalidated other tickets, but Barrington-Nix’s announcement that the 16-mph turn was “careful and prudent enough” raised the issue of what constitutes “careful and prudent” for a right on red.
Like many cities, Palm Coast doesn’t generally issue red-light tickets for very slow right-on-reds, but city officials in the past have mentioned 14 mph as the speed below which tickets are generally dismissed, or not issued in the first place.
But that’s a guideline, Lane said, not a hard and fast rule.
"The city’s traffic infraction officers make a determination just as a deputy would — based on the individual circumstances of that turn," she said. “Every single one has a different set of circumstances, and it isn’t a black and white rule. That’s always a judgment call; there are a lot of factors that go into that.”
On the day that Craig’s ticket was dismissed, Lane said, Barrington-Nix also dismissed a ticket issued to a woman whose car was cited for a 15-mph right-on-red roll-through, ruling that turn “careful and prudent” as well. That ticket was dismissed before Craig’s hearing.
The city might also issue tickets for right-on-red roll-throughs that are slower than 14 mph if factors other than speed make the turn not “careful and prudent,” she said, such as approaching traffic or the presence of a pedestrian in the crosswalk.
“What’s safe is for people to stop, then turn right if there’s no traffic coming,” she said. “Our statistics have shown that the number of violations has gone down since the program started. That’s one of the best indications we have that the program is working.”
Other cities have set differing speed guidelines for right-on-red roll-throughs, and some cities don’t use red-light cameras for right-on-red citations at all.
The disparity is the result of ambiguous language in the state’s red-light camera law.
Although Florida traffic law says drivers must come to a complete stop at a red light and that law enforcement officers who see a roll-through can ticket people who fail to stop, the state law governing red-light cameras says red-light camera citations “may not be issued for failure to stop at a red light if the driver is making a right-hand turn in a careful and prudent manner at an intersection where right-hand turns are permissible.”
The red-light camera law leaves the definition of “careful and prudent” up to municipalities.