By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND -- After almost four years of giving them green lights, the DeLand City Commission put the brakes on red-light cameras. At the last regular meeting of 2012, the commission got news that DeLand drivers are pretty well behaved.
"It wasn't actually an idea that got nixed," Commissioner Leigh Matusick said in an interview after the meeting. "(The reversal) was based on new information brought to us."
In June, the commission approved inking a contract with Gatso USA for the oftentimes controversial cameras at three intersections. It was the second red-light camera company DeLand had considered using. The proposed intersections were Woodland and International Speedway boulevards, International Speedway and Amelia Avenue, along with Woodland and Spring Garden Avenue.
However, Mark Bedard, regional sales manager for Gatso, said the company's studies of the intersections didn't turn up that many red-light runners.
"We have a human being sit by the side of the roadway and actually count violations they see occurring," he said. "We'd see 10, maybe even closer to five, violations in the time we were there. We did it twice. The results were nearly identical."
Red-light cameras video vehicles suspected of violating stop lights. Police officers watch the videos of suspected infractions and decide whether to issue code citations. The vehicles' owners are cited by mail with a $158 fine. The state gets $83 of every paid fine. The operating city or county get $75.
Citation recipients have 30 days to pay fines, sign affidavits stating they weren't the drivers when their vehicles allegedly ran red lights or ask to contest them before hearing officers. If recipients ignore the citations, they're upgraded to state Uniform Traffic Citations sent by certified mail. In other words, the citations become tickets and fines can escalate up to about $300.
According to Rick Morrow, district traffic operations engineer for the state Department of Transportation, only two Volusia cities have permits for having red-light cameras on state roads -- Daytona Beach and Holly Hill. Mr. Bedard said both have contracts with Gatso.
"There's not a ton of cities in Volusia County that have moved forward with interest (for them)," he said.
Mr. Bedard said it's not unusual for his company to find that cities don't need the cameras.
"It's more common than you think," he said. "About 15 to 25 percent of the time it happens. In many cases, there's a perception of a problem, but we get out there and collect data and it just doesn't show it."
Bill Ridgway, chief of the DeLand Police Department, said that in recent years red-light running in DeLand seems to have diminished. He was pleased Gatso's studies verified it.
"It's a good thing," he said. "I think it's a good thing for the citizens. It's a compliment."
Mr. Bedard said DeLand can request more studies for the red-light cameras in the future.
"It's bittersweet to a degree," he said. "It's sweet that you can go to them and say, 'You don't have a problem.'"