A fuzzy Florida law on rolling right turns on red at camera intersections

Since confusion runs rampant over whether Florida statutes allow rolling right turns on red, the issue needs some clarity.

First and foremost, however, state law (316.075) requires drivers to stop at red lights.

The Florida drivers manual states that motorists must "come to a complete stop at the marked stop line or before moving into the crosswalk or intersection. After stopping, you may turn right on red at most intersections if the way is clear" -- the exception being intersections displaying a "NO TURN ON RED" sign.

Tweaks to the 2010 Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act (316.0083), though, took a different path for intersections with red-light cameras. Those changes went into effect on July 1, 2013.

The traffic camera law states that "A notice of violation and a traffic citation 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. A notice of violation and a traffic citation may not be issued under this section if the driver of the vehicle came to a complete stop after crossing the stop line and before turning right if permissible at a red light, but failed to stop before crossing over the stop line or other point at which a stop is required."

There are two points here open to interpretation. What is "careful and prudent" and does the "complete stop" requirement apply to all right turns on red?

In checking with the Florida Attorney General's Office, no public entity in the state has requested a legal opinion on the matter. Private citizens are not allowed to request such opinions.

The Florida Highway Patrol, however, explained that each jurisdiction is free to interpret the "careful and prudent" provision in the safety law.

Thus, there is no uniform standard among the state's cities and counties.

Manatee County and the city of Bradenton differ sharply on this issue -- leaving drivers caught on some cameras rolling through a right turn on red frustrated.

The county is very strict while the city is lenient.

Sergeant Michael Kenyan, the Traffic Unit supervisor in the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, told us the department focuses on the "complete stop" citation in the Mark Wandall statute, named after a Manatee County resident killed by red-light runner.

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski explained that he wanted to avoid the right turn on red controversy created by other cities. His department allows rolling right turns on red at speeds up to 15 mph.

"So we won't even process and send anyone a red-light violation unless they exceed 15 mph while making the turn," he told this Editorial Board. "At that speed or higher, it's not prudent but more importantly not safe."

John V. DiPasqua of Bradenton got ensnared in the jurisdictional differences debate in appealing two Manatee County tickets for rolling-on-red turns. As his April 15 letter to the editor indicated, his attempt to argue the "careful and prudent" defense fell on deaf ears. The judge followed the county's unforgiving interpretation of the law.

In her April 4 letter to the editor, Kathleen Richardson ignited the debate and prompted a response from Kenyan, published April 11.

Richardson's remark in her letter today spotlights the problem: The 2013 revisions to the law are indeed "poorly crafted."

If those changes were intended to thwart jurisdictions from increasing revenue with red-light tickets from right turns, lawmakers left the door open to interpretation -- likely an unintended consequence that should be corrected.

The state needs uniform standards, not a patchwork of policies that unduly punish drivers unaware of a particular jurisdiction's interpretation. Regardless, though, motorists would be well advised to fully stop at all intersections -- especially ones with cameras.