Bradenton mayor says state should keep hands off red-light cameras

jajones1@bradenton.comFebruary 20, 2014 

Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston.

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BRADENTON -- Mayor Wayne Poston asked City Council Wednesday to begin considering the possibility that state lawmakers may pass legislation repealing the use of red-light cameras.

Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have gone on record favoring a repeal of the state's red-light camera law.

Bradenton and Manatee County are among 74 Florida municipalities and five counties with red-light cameras.

Bradenton's five-year contract with ACS Inc. for operating seven red-light cameras ends in August.

Poston wondered aloud whether the city should allow the contract to lapse. "The legislature will kill them anyway," Poston said during a workshop meeting.

But aside from Councilman Bemis Smith, there seemed to be no sentiment for getting rid of the cameras.

Councilman Gene Brown argued that studies he has read prove that public safety is improved through the use of the cameras by discouraging red-light running.

Besides, anyone breaking the law should be held accountable, Brown said.

Smith countered by asking Brown why he thought safety had been improved.

"Ninety-eight percent of the red-light tickets issued are not for a dangerous situation," Smith said.

Asked about the issue after the meeting, Poston said red-light cameras are a public safety issue, and they work.

"It's not a money maker. Half the money goes to the state," Poston said. "I wish the Legislature would take their hands off it."

Councilman Gene Gallo did not address the issue during the workshop, but afterward said if red-light cameras save even one life, they are worthwhile.

Red-light cameras make him more attentive as a driver, Gallo said, adding that he would be in favor of discontinuing their use only if they created a bigger problem -- and he wasn't aware of any.

Manatee County's use of red-light cameras is more recent, dating to 2012. There are now seven red-light cameras in use in unincorporated Manatee.

Statistics for July to December show that the number of notices of violation have dropped over that period for all but one of seven camera locations, county spokesman Nick Azzara stated in an email.

"That indicates that driver behavior is improving at these intersections and the cameras are working to prevent red-light running and they have become a tool to keep local roads safer," Azzara said.

The lone intersection where notices have increased is the southbound approach at 26th Street West and Cortez Road -- the county's newest red-light camera location.

Larry Bustle, chairman of the Manatee County Commission, and a significant majority of commissioners remain strong supporters of the cameras.

"We are a modern-day success story. I would hate to see Tallahassee back away from it," Bustle said.

A recent report from the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability showed red-light cameras in Florida have reduced collisions, Bustle said.

Fatal collisions decreased by 49 percent in 12 counties with red-light cameras, according to the report.

Use of red-light cameras in Florida is allowed under the Mark Wandall Act, named for an East Manatee resident who lost his life in 2003 to a red-light runner at State Road 70 and Tara Boulevard.

His widow, Melissa Wandall, lobbied the Legislature for years before securing passage of the red-light bill in 2010.

In a guest column published Feb. 14 in the Bradenton Herald, Melissa Wandall wrote:

"In the three years since the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act became law, the average number of citations issued per camera per month statewide has decreased by 40 percent. This means fewer people are running red lights in Florida. Just two months ago, the Florida Department of Highway and Traffic Safety found that 95 percent of vehicles issued a red-light running violation in 2013 did not receive a second citation."

James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter: @jajones1

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