End the debate: Study validates Florida red-light cameras improve public safety

January 11, 2013 

The City of Bradenton is one of the municipalities and counties discovering that high-tech cameras designed to catch motorists running red lights at major intersections are reducing crashes -- "considerably" here, Bradenton Sgt. William Weldon stated this week.

In a report sent to Florida's Legislature, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles concluded: "The most common outcome since the installation of red-light cameras is a decrease in traffic crashes."

The study listed results from 73 law enforcement agencies across the state, and 41 reported fewer crashes, 11 witnessed increases and the remainder experienced no difference or lacked data over the reporting period, July 2011 and June 2012.

Currently, Bradenton has red-light cameras at six intersections. Manatee County's cameras have only been operational since mid-October.

The report repudiates one of the arguments against the cameras, too -- the fear that motorists would slam on the brakes at red lights and cause rear-end collisions. Bradenton did not experience an increase in such crashes. Indeed, 41 percent of the agencies reported fewer rear-end collisions, and 56 percent saw a decline in the total number of crashes.

The highway safety report made another strong point in support of cameras: Most agencies found improvements in traffic safety throughout their jurisdictions as drivers approached all intersections more cautiously. That speaks volumes about the cameras' widespread impact on public safety.

Whether this study will quiet camera opponents is another matter. One week ago, a Miami lawmaker filed legislation to eliminate any city and county authority to install the devices. Other legislators are taking aim, too, just as has occurred ever since the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act passed in the Legislature in May 2010.

Now with clear evidence that the cameras enhance traffic safety, those efforts appear less likely to withstand sharp criticism over the rationale for changing state law.

Some camera foes argue the devices are a matter of government intrusion. Just because technology boosts law enforcement is a weak argument -- only law-breakers are targeted.

Is the real issue money? The $158 fine, with the lion's share going into state coffers, is no small amount. But again, motorists who obey the rules -- including stopping behind the white lines -- have nothing to fear.

Fairness is another issue entirely, one that must be ensured. Traffic court magistrates hear appeals on disputed violations, and the process cannot be one-sided.

The camera law is named after Melissa Wandall's husband, a Tara resident killed by a red-light runner in 2003. For years, she lobbied hard for passage, telling Herald reporter Sara Kennedy after the state report was released: "I knew in my heart that red-light safety cameras would be a vital part of curbing those behaviors, and they're showing they're working."

The state study should end any debate over the law, and the Legislature should move on to truly pressing matters.

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