Jan. 26--Red light cameras are back in the news, and the issue of ticketing motorists through the mail likely will generate heated debate when Florida lawmakers convene in March.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, plans to introduce a bill that would ban red light cameras across the state.
While no local governments in our region employ red light cameras, at least two cities have proposed installing the cameras. And Treasure Coast residents inevitably drive under the watch of Big Brother in other Florida communities.
In 2010, the Legislature authorized cameras and fines of $158 for each offender photographed running red lights. However, many local jurisdictions were hesitant to implement cameras after they read the fine print in the enabling legislation, which provides local governments with only $75 per fine and requires them to use that money to pay the camera vendor and for personnel required to review each photo.
Still, cameras are used by dozens of local governments in Florida.
The state, not surprisingly, reaps the biggest financial windfall from this technology, which was sold to the public as a safety device.
Evidence to support this claim is mixed.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles surveyed 73 law enforcement agencies in the state to determine if cameras reduce crashes. The January 2013 study found crashes were less frequent at intersections in 41 jurisdictions where cameras had been installed. However, 11 agencies with cameras reported crashes had increased.
Brandes is highly skeptical of the "safety" claim and quick to highlight other possible flaws in the red light camera program.
"We know standards are being applied differently in different municipalities," he said. "There are instances where yellow lights have been shortened to state minimums (to increase the number of drivers who run red lights). The only reason to do that is to generate revenue."
Brandes also points to one community -- Edgewood, outside Orlando -- where Brandes said authorities have written 10,000 tickets at one intersection.
Quite an achievement for a city of 2,500.
If lawmakers truly are concerned with safety at intersections, they would consider a recommendation by researchers at the University of South Florida'sCollege of Public Health, which studied this issue and published the results in a 2008 report, "Red-Light Running Cameras: Would crashes, injuries and automobile insurance rates increase if they are used in Florida?"
USF researchers found that "comprehensive studies conclude cameras actually increase crashes and injuries, providing a safety argument not to install them." The study also offered basic solutions to the problem, one of which is adding "a brief, all-red light clearance interval to allow traffic in the intersection to clear prior to releasing cross traffic."
Given the fact "nearly 80 percent of red-light running occurs in the first second after the light changes" (USF study), this one step, in combination with others, could reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities at intersections.
Florida lawmakers should approve Senate Bill 144. The red-light camera program is a failed experiment that should be discontinued.
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