Palm Beach County commissioners on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to an appeals system that would let drivers contest red-light camera tickets before a special magistrate rather than in court.
The procedure would allow drivers to challenge the $158 tickets before it appears on their driving record. They currently have to wait 30 days, when the fine for the infraction has climbed to $264, and their only recourse is to go to court, where they could face court costs and have the ticket added to their driving record.
A final vote is scheduled for June 18.
“Instead of requiring you to go to traffic court, you will have a choice to go to our hearing officer,” County Engineer George Webb said. “It is a process change.”
The new system is required under a bill (HB 7125) passed by the Legislature and sent to Gov. Rick Scott last week. Unless vetoed by Scott by June 12, it would require counties, cities and towns with red-light cameras to designate a local hearing officer, similar to a code enforcement magistrate, by July 1 to review appeals.
Under the current law, motorists have 30 days to pay the $158 fine for a red-light camera ticket. They cannot file a challenge until that 30-day period ends, when the potential fine climbs to $264 but they can appeal in court.
Those who appeal and are unsuccessful could also be required to pay court costs and face having the ticket added to their driving record, which is inspected by insurance companies and could mean higher premiums. The red-light camera citation of someone who pays the initial $158 fine is not added to that person’s driving record.
Webb said about 60 drivers a month currently challenge the $264 tickets in court.
The proposed changes would give motorists 60 days to pay the $158 fine or request a hearing before a local government officer that could cost the challenger as much as $250 extra. That’s because the bill would also allow local governments to charge motorists whose petitions are unsuccessful an administrative fee of up to $250. Motorists who cancel their hearings would be assessed $50 in administrative costs.
Motorists who ask for a local hearing but are unsuccessful with their appeal could pay the fine and administrative fee, which would be a maximum $408, and still not have the ticket added to their driving record.
The county is reviewing how much it will cost to run the new hearing program.
Webb said the county has not made any revenue from tickets issued through its 10 cameras. So far, all of the money collected has been used to cover fees the county is required to pay the Arizona contractor to run the system, Webb said.
“We have never made a dime off of the county’s program,” Webb said.
Webb said the county is in the process of analyzing traffic records at intersections where cameras have been installed to determine whether they have helped reduce accidents. Commissioners are expected to discuss the analysis at a meeting next month.