As you are driving down a busy street, you see the light change in front of you from green to yellow. Your car speeds up (on its own volition?) and you enter the intersection believing the light is still yellow. Out of the corner of your eye, a bright flash. Dread sets in as you realize you will be receiving a ticket. You are done for, right?

Perhaps not. At issue in Masone v. City of Aventura (SC12-644), are a couple of traffic tickets that issued after a camera photographed the petitioner’s car running a red light. The City of Aventura (“City”) passed ordinances providing for tickets to issue to owners of vehicles that have been photographed entering a traffic intersection while the light is red. After receiving two such tickets, Masone filed an action in Circuit Court seeking to invalidate the City’s ordinances. The trial court held that the City’s ordinances were expressly preempted by Florida’s Uniform Traffic Control Law, Ch. 316, Florida Statutes, and that various provisions of the ordinances were in direct conflict with state law. A split Third District Court of Appeal (“DCA”) panel reversed. The Supreme Court exercised its discretion and agreed to review the decision below. Briefs have not yet been filed to the Supreme Court, but based on the DCA opinion and dissent, the Court will be addressing the following questions:

– Whether Florida’s Uniform Traffic Control Law operates to preempt local ordinances pertaining to red light infractions.

If the state legislature decided to have sole authority over regulating traffic safety, local laws passed in the field will be considered preempted and therefore invalid. The dissent at the DCA found that Florida’s Uniform Traffic Control Law expressly preempts localities from enacting laws relating to traffic light infractions. Section 316.007, Florida Statutes, provides in pertinent part that no local government shall enact any laws on any traffic matters addressed by state statutes (which do address traffic light violations) without express authorization. The majority held that Section 316.008(1)(w), Florida Statutes, which permits local regulation, monitoring, or restricting traffic by security devices, authorizes a City to enact and enforce its own provisions relating to traffic lights.

– Whether the City’s red light violation ordinances directly conflict with state laws.

Specific potential conflicts that will be analyzed are: the City ordinance provides for special masters to preside over red light violation cases while Art V. Sec. 1 of the Florida Constitution authorizes the legislature to create a hearing officer system to preside over traffic violations; various inconsistencies between qualifications of hearing officers under the state system and City special masters; the ordinance’s punishment of the owner of the vehicle, contrasted to Florida Statutes, which focus on the driver; the state requirement that an officer personally observe the violation, which the ordinance does not require; and the monetary penalty provisions, which are higher under the ordinance than they are under Florida Statutes.

Now, in case you traffic camera haters are getting too excited about the fate of traffic cameras should the City lose, it should be kept in mind that the decision in this case will likely be limited to the City’s ordinances. Even if the ultimate holding in this case will apply broadly to Florida cities installing cameras at intersections, legislative action would almost certainly follow to permit the installation of such devices provided there is adequate, ahem, sharing of the resulting proceeds between cities and the state.

Fighting a Traffic Light Camera

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