After several months of public records requests, in June 2012 I finally received the raw American Traffic Solutions(ATS) red light camera data from the City of St. Petersburg for the first 6 months of their program. Right away there were dozens of citations that stood out as being suspect, so I gathered 121 of them in to a list and sent in another public records request to receive the videos of these. Over 3 months later and I finally received the videos to most of the violations that I had requested, they did not deliver 14 of them. This is the analysis of one example of just how bad the ATS equipment can malfunction, the "96 miles-per-hour" right turn on red.
I had flagged this violation early on as one that I just had to see on video, and once I had a dozen or so other impossible pieces of data I started to look into how their system could be measuring these violations so wrong. I didn't have to look far. The Federal Highway Administration(FHWA) had sponsored a study in Illinois in 2011 on the accuracy of the Sensys magnetic vehicle sensors in different kinds of weather. ATS uses these same Sensys magnetic sensors on all of their red light camera systems in St. Petersburg. Here is a link to the study in PDF format. The study shows that there is an average occurance of over 12% multiple triggers for the same vehicle in ideal weater conditions. That means 12% of the time these sensors can register faster speeds than are really happening.
My next step was to go before the St. Petersburg city council to let them know that they were using faulty equipment to monitor the red lights. They did not take much interest in my presentation of this data, but Tampa Bay Fox 13 reporter Steve Nichols did. He did a piece on these outlandish violation speeds that aired later that week(link). Some other news outlets picked up the story, and the website truthaboutcars.com even did the math on the mythical 96mph right turn(link). They showed that for a car to pull that off, they would be doing 4 G's, on the high end of what formula-1 race cars can do.
Now that I finally have the video and pictures of the alleged violation(linked below), I can show proof that this vehicle never should have been ticketed in the first place. The vehicle is a 2004 Chevrolet Silverado extended cab pickup truck. This vehicle is at most 246 inches in length, with a 144 inch wheelbase. The alleged violation occured at 22nd Ave. S. and northbound 34th St. S. in the far right lane. The "A" and "B" violation pictures are taken 1.6 seconds apart, and they show that the truck has moved 26 feet during that time at the very most. That translates to 16.25 feet/second, which is 11mph, at the most. In Pinellas County Florida traffic court, they have set the legal standard of the "Careful and prudent" allowable right turn on red to be at 12mph, it is 15mph across the bay in Tampa and Hillsborough County. If ATS' equipment had been operating properly, this citation would never have been issued. Right turn on red citations make up 42% of the red light camera citations in the City of St. Petersburg. If their equipment can be this far off, how many of those other right turn citations should never have been issued?