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Long IslandColumnistsJudy Cartwright

Drivers complain of multiple tickets before getting chance to change behavior

Rocco Deleo recently said his wife had received

Rocco Deleo recently said his wife had received "seven citations for going through the same red light" at Commack Road and Dorothea Street in Commack. Photo Credit: Judy Cartwright

So many tickets in so little time.

That's the complaint of readers on the receiving end of multiple tickets from red light or speed cameras. Here's a look at two cases:

About once a month, a red light camera ticket would arrive in the mail at Rocco Deleo's home in Commack. Each citation was from the same intersection.

He called us one day last month to say his wife had received "seven citations for going through the same red light." The intersection, at Commack Road and Dorothea Street, serves as the entrance to a grocery near their home. Deleo would pay the $80 fine to Suffolk County and, when a notice wound up misplaced, add in a $25 late fee.

But he had become suspicious. Because tickets were arriving with seeming regularity, Deleo had begun to suspect that a scam artist was targeting his address under the ruse of the county's red light camera program.

The violations turned out to be legit, something he probably would have deciphered if he had seen the online videos available with every ticket. But he doesn't have a computer. We looked up two of the violations on the county's ticket payment website and watched as a car slowed considerably before making the right turn into the grocery lot. It's the kind of almost-stop most of us made until the videos taught us a lesson.

Such a change of behavior is the point of the cameras, according to the county's website: The "safety program [is] focused on changing driver behavior at red light intersections through a comprehensive effort involving engineering, education and enforcement."

Repeated tickets indicate behavior isn't changing. Does the county take steps to educate drivers who rack up multiple tickets at the same site?

The answer is no. And there's no plan to do so, according to county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter, who said the information on each notice of violation is sufficient. "That's the reason we provide the pictures and the video," she said. "We provide two mediums for them to see that they did not adhere" to the requirement for a full stop.

Some drivers have sent us their tickets, pointing to the bright red brake lights in the photos as evidence of a stop. And the photos were no help to Deleo, a man unaccustomed to being characterized as a law breaker -- he's a World War II veteran with pride in a grandson who's a police chief in Florida.

He wants a new sign on the corner, one informing drivers that a right turn on red is OK -- but only after a full stop. But the county says a sign isn't needed because drivers should know such a stop is required.

These days Deleo makes sure the car comes to a halt before making that right turn. The camera there has cost him almost $700 so far.

Tickets

keep comingThe first ticket arrived 15 days after one of Nassau County's speed cameras snapped the vehicle's photo. Another one arrived the next day, and the next and . . .

"I racked up five more of these things before realizing I was doing anything wrong," Daniel Gazzola of Huntington wrote in an email.

"So OK, wake me up with a ticket. I got it. I'll change the way I drive," he said when we spoke. "But before I was even notified of the first ticket, I had six." That's $480 in tickets.

Knowing immediately about the first violation would have prompted a change in his driving, said Gazzola, managing director of a commercial real estate firm in Melville.

We've heard that refrain often in the seven weeks since Nassau County relaunched its school-zone speed camera program. Delayed notification means a delayed change in drivers' behavior even as tickets accumulate.

Gazzola makes the case that Nassau should alter its own behavior: Notify a driver as soon as a speed camera image is processed -- by text message or automated phone call.

"If their goal is to put safety first, they should be letting people know right away," he said. "I'm getting a text message now that there's a sale at Lord & Taylor. So I can't get one from the county that's in the interest of our children's safety?"

Nassau has no plans to do so. "The county publicized the program and I called all homes with a prerecorded message warning motorists of speeding in school zones," John Marks, executive director of the county's Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, said in an email. The calls did not extend to homes in Suffolk.

Would the county dismiss tickets issued between the date of the first violation and the day it arrives in the mail? "Valid violations cannot be dismissed," Marks said. "TPVA works with residents to map out amicable payment solutions" -- for example, by paying off one a month for six months.

Gazzola plans to contest his six: "$480 worth of tickets is a lot of money to me. I've got two in college, and it's tough out there."

His daily commute takes him past schools in Suffolk, where cameras aren't due to arrive until next year. Still, he slows down.

Consider it a rehearsal.

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