JACKSONVILLE, FLa. – First there were radar detectors that sounded an alarm in your car as you approached a police speed trap, letting you know to slow down or risk a ticket. It seems there are gadgets for everything, including ones sold specifically to keep you from getting caught breaking the law running a red light. Do they work though, and what's legal?
Right now, there are 32 red light cameras across Northeast Florida catching cars running through intersections.
Red light cameras monitor three Orange Park intersections, and the top cop in town says they make a difference all over the city.
"What I've noticed, when people approach intersection, whether or not it has red light camera, they're starting to pay better attention to the light," said Orange Park Police Chief Gary Goble (pictured below). "If it's yellow, they're starting to slowdown, thinking about stopping, instead of thinking about trying to make it."
With seven cameras monitoring his city, Goble says 1,100 tickets a month are going out.
So would a tool like Photo Mask Cover, that's sold online, make a difference?
Roy Reyer doesn't think so. The former sheriff's office lieutenant has built a national reputation for product testing and looking into claims about avoiding detection on the roadways. Thus his nickname, "Radar Roy."
The "Photo Mask Cover" is $50 from the company. The premise is that the cover distorts light, making the plate readable from directly behind but illegible from above. Roy and others call it a waste of money, even though it has a "no ticket guarantee."
"They do work against the cameras," Reyer said. "But the problem is that the officer, he's going to see these. These are what I call ticket magnets!"
"Most people who've used things out there trying to defeat the camera, they're not working," he said.
So what does work, if anything? We drove into a red light camera intersection in a car with a tool installed. "Radar Roy" recommended it and we found a driver in Jacksonville with it.
"The best company out there is called Escort, has what they call the Defender Database," he said.
We spoke to Curtis Whittingon, owner of car accessories shop called American Radio. He says there's more than one car in town, riding with that Defender Database protection.
"We probably do 3-4 a month, they're quite expensive," Whittington said.
Local defense attorney Chris Carson doesn't like the cameras on principal.
"Really the reason they have cameras is because they are lucrative and they provide money for the government coffers, as opposed to protecting folks," Carson told us.
Carson drove us through a red light intersection to demonstrate the Escort device with the Defender database. It was not his car, but Carson says he represents several clients who disagree with police monitoring so much they're willing to spend money to avoid spending more money if they get caught.
"To get a ticket for a red light, it can literally be a difference of point-three milliseconds," Carson said. "So all it takes is a small lapse in paying attention or concentration for you to get a $158 ticket."
Carson says radar detectors and laser reflectors are not illegal in Florida, so he says use them if you want. And if you can afford them. Carson would agree with many of the people we spoke to for our story, though. He thinks the best way to avoid a ticket from a red light camera is to use a different tool, one that comes with your vehicle: the brake pedal. Don't count on using some of the products that promise or guarantee you won't get caught.
Carson said, "I've represented people who've had those systems in place, yet I'm representing them because they got a ticket from a red light camera. So in my experience, they do not work."
Goble, the Orange Park police chief, added, "Tags we've seen with covers on them, they've clearly run the red light, and we clearly had the tag number. So I have to say, for the most part, those things don't work."
Those red light intersections do work to change traffic even a little, according to police. Chief Goble points out that 70,000 cars go through Orange Park every day, on their way to or from Jacksonville. Goble believes the roads are safer with the red light camera enforcement because drivers know they are there and slow down when they approach them.
As we mentioned, there are 32 red light cameras in our area.
Orange Park has seven cameras and 6,966 citations have been issued. Green Cove Springs has five red light cameras and has issued 8,143 citations. And Jacksonville currently has 20 cameras, and as of October 15, had issued 16,034 red light citations.