Fresh Manatee County evidence of public safety value of red-light cameras

June 20, 2013 

The dramatic drop in the number of motorists running red lights at Manatee County intersections outfitted with cameras indicates the devices are indeed changing behavior as hoped.

In May, the four intersections racked up 367 violations -- up from 255 in April but a steep decline from the 1,297 infractions last November and the 661 in October, the first month the cameras became operational.

Those positive developments are evidence of the cameras' value, but we expect the debate to continue despite the abundantly clear public safety benefit. With far fewer vehicles zipping through red lights, innocent drivers are less likely to face serious injuries and death.

This week Manatee County commissioners approved an expansion of the camera program, activating four more devices and at least one more operational next year.

The City of Bradenton also employs red-light cameras at six intersections.

In honor of Wandall

This past week marks a milestone for the Manatee County resident who lobbied the Legislature for years before passage of the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act in 2010, which authorized red-light cameras. Melissa Wandall's husband lost his life at an intersection near his Tara home when a red-light runner collided with his vehicle in 2003.

One of the county's new cameras is positioned at that intersection, State Road 70 and Tara Boulevard. This symbolic gesture honors Wandall's steadfast campaign to improve public safety and educate motorists.

"I am grateful that Manatee County has put a camera here at Tara where Mark died," she told the Herald.

"But for me now, it's just about a community coming together to acknowledge that someone died at this intersection and red-light running can be curbed."

In another interview, she commented on the remarkable decline in red-light citations at intersections with cameras: "It's just that these cameras are doing what they're designed to do. I knew this was what would take part in saving lives."

Naysayers, though, continue to decry the $158 penalty, maintaining cameras are installed only to generate revenue for governments.

In Manatee County's case, the devices have been almost revenue neutral -- providing only $396 more than expenses at this point.

Camera law tweaked

Last week Gov. Rick Scott signed a highway safety bill that fine-tunes the state's red-light camera law. Under the measure, a citation cannot be issued for a right-on-red violation if the driver came to a complete stop -- even if beyond the stop line or other point at which a stop is required.

This does not apply to intersections where right-on-red is prohibited -- such as on eastbound Manatee Avenue at the intersection with 15th Street West.

That tweak should apply to motorists who stop at this intersection but cross the white line only to witness the camera's flash.

The new law also compels cities and counties to create an appeals process. This eliminates the current requirement that an appeal of a violation first become a state-issued uniform traffic citation, which carries a points penalty and a heftier fine plus fees. That onerous provision will expire when the new law goes into effect July 1.

Motorists also get a break on the current 30-day limit on responding to a ticket. That will double to 60 days, a reasonable time frame.

As of December 2012, the number of local jurisdictions in Florida with red-light cameras stood at 77. Cameras guard more than 400 intersections statewide with more coming.

As Manatee County has discovered, the devices are effective at convincing more drivers to obey the law and stop. Thank goodness for that.

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