Florida lawmakers: Ban red-light cameras

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauFebruary 12, 2014 

TALLAHASSEE -- Two lawmakers who filed bills to repeal Florida's red-light camera law say recent state analysis backs up their argument there is a better way to improve safety at traffic intersections.

"We currently have the tools in our toolbox to stop the red-light infractions from occurring. We do not need the red-light cameras today in Florida," said state Rep.

Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican, who held a press conference Monday to release the results of the state analysis.

The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability study on red-light cameras was done at the request of state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican and Senate sponsor of the repeal legislation.

Red-light cameras are found in 74 municipalities and five counties, including Manatee County, covering 922 intersections. They are mostly in South and Central Florida, including Bradenton, Sarasota, Miami, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Fort Lauderdale.

In addition to ticketing those who run red lights, 57 percent of jurisdictions also cite drivers for turning right on red without coming to a complete stop and 30 percent use red-light cameras to enforce turning right on red when "no turn on red" signs are posted. Money from the $158 fines per violation is split among the municipality where the infraction occurred, the state and two health-focused trust funds.

Red-light camera revenue increased statewide from $37.6 million in 2010-11 to $118.9 million in 2012-13. Brandes and Artiles say they are convinced the cameras are not about improving safety but providing an additional revenue source for counties and cities.

Like other studies before it, OPPAGA concluded "crashes resulting in fatalities decreased at red-light camera intersections on state roads but rear-end and angle crashes increased."

Cities and counties oppose the repeal and criticized the new state report.

"OPPAGA's report acknowledges that crashes are down 19 percent and fatalities are down 49 percent at intersections with red-light safety cameras," the Florida League of Cities wrote in a news release. "While we have many objections with OPPAGA's findings and recommendations, if the question of whether or not this program is successful hinges on the number of lives saved, then the answer is a resounding yes."

The repeal proposals, Senate Bill 144 and House Bill 4009, have yet to receive any committee hearings. Brandes said he was waiting for the state report before proceeding.

"It is deeply disturbing to think that cities and counties in our state may be choosing camera revenue before implementing proven safety countermeasures," he said.

Artiles also is inserting changes to the red-light camera program -- including a moratorium and reduced fines -- in a second, much larger transportation bill.

House Bill 7005 would slash the fine from $158 to $83 by removing the $75 for local government agencies. Municipalities would be able to impose a surcharge to fund existing cameras, but it would have to be discussed at a public hearing and approved by majority vote.

Artiles said if the repeal bills don't get traction, he would likely amend HB 7005 to incorporate recommendations from the state report. They include requiring local jurisdictions to obtain permits from the state by proving there is a genuine safety need before red-light cameras are installed, and restricting local governments from using red-light camera revenue for any uses beyond public safety or traffic safety issues.

Discussion about red-light cameras comes at the same time a former executive for a prominent red-light camera vendor is accusing the company of offering gifts and bribes to officials in Florida and 13 other states to gain contracts.

That company -- RedFlex Traffic Systems of Phoenix -- has contracts in Clearwater, Jacksonville and Kissimmee. City administrators in Clearwater have requested corporate gift records from the company, but City Manager Bill Horne said it has acted appropriately.

"Everybody who works for the city knows that's not something we do," Horne said, referring to accepting gifts, perks or bribes. "Nobody wants to go to jail."

The biggest red-light camera vendor in Florida is RedFlex's rival, American Traffic Solutions. That company has contracts in Miami, Tampa, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Fort Lauderdale.

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