Amid ongoing controversy about whether Florida cities should be allowed to use cameras that ticket red-light runners, one city has begun to use third-party software to improve the accuracy of the equipment in question.
Winter Park, Fla., located just north of Orlando, has hired the services of StarTraq, a UK-based company that specializes in such programs. StarTraq’s software, dubbed Assurance, records the date, time, location, red-light time, yellow-light time, lane and speed involved before a ticket is issued. StarTraq receives a feed of all red-light cameras in Winter Park (a total of five), and its software alerts the company of any irregularities or red flags that might mean wrongly given tickets are happening. The company then alerts the Winter Park Police Department.
“We call the product Assurance because it does give assurance to the police and to the general public that offenses that have been generated by an automated camera are being looked at by a third party, us being that third party,” said Richard Talbott of StarTraq. “We provide a real-time auditing tool.”
At its core, the software is designed to assuage any concerns by the public that cameras will give them tickets they don’t deserve. Winter Park’s decision to partner with StarTraq comes at a time when the future of red-light cameras in Florida seems volatile. On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the state senate voted on a bill to repeal a 2010 law that lets local governments use red-light cameras. That vote resulted in a tie, which means the measure to remove failed.
The debate has to do with the accuracy of red-light cameras. Opponents question the accuracy of such devices, while proponents point to statistics showing the technology improves safety on the road. Since Orlando instituted a red-light program, the city has seen accidents fall from 99 to 66 at 10 of its intersections, according to numbers from Stop on Red Florida.
One of the primary accuracy issues with red-light cameras has to do with how long a light remains yellow. Basically, if a light does not remain yellow long enough, cameras can tend to issue citations in error. What StarTraq’s technology does is closely evaluate yellow light times, throwing out tickets that are not in line with how long a light must remain yellow.
The Florida state Legislature is not alone in its debate over whether to allow red-light cameras. Despite a reduction in crashes, Iowa has banned the cameras. While in Ohio, a case involving the technology made its way to the supreme court. On the whole, use of the traffic devices, once quite popular, has been in decline since 2013.
Winter Park’s decision to use the Assurance software comes after a 12-month period during which the city used it as part of a pilot program. That effort was instituted under the leadership of Winter Park Police Chief Brett Railey, who has since retired.
“The goal here is transparency, both for local jurisdictions and the public. Any technology that can help demonstrate that automated traffic enforcement programs are being conducted in a fair and honest manner will without doubt enhance the public trust in such programs. But trust by the public is not an end in itself,” Railey said in a statement. “The ultimate benefit will be a change in driver behavior and increased traffic safety.”
Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.