A state lawmaker is trying to make it more difficult to operate red-light cameras and install new ones throughout Florida in legislation introduced last week, saying the cameras are merely cash cows that don't actually increase safety.
"We need to get rid of red-light cameras in this state," said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. "Multiple reports have clearly shown that accidents have actually gone up at these intersections. I think it's a failed experiment."
Manatee County and city of Bradenton officials disagree, saying the cameras didn't generate much revenue but did serve to make intersections safer. Bradenton operates seven red-light cameras and the county operates eight.
"We have definitely noticed a crash reduction," said Sgt. Michael Kenyan with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, who helps monitor the county red-light cameras. "We think it acts as a deterrent against unsafe behavior."
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Brandes was unable to get enough support on a previous bill to outlaw the cameras, so this session's legislation focuses on increasing reporting requirements on red-light cameras. The leg
islation says counties not meeting reporting requirements can not use the cameras to issue tickets. Officials also would have to look into other measures to improve safety at intersections before installing new cameras.
Two government studies show intersections with red-light cameras have more accidents since installation -- not less. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported crashes at red-light intersections in 68 jurisdictions increased 7.65 percent from 6,791 crashes the year before installations to 7,311 crashes between July 2013 and June 2014.
Manatee County reported 29 crashes the year before camera installations, and only 23 between July 2013 and June 2014 -- a decrease of 20.6 percent.
The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability had similar findings, reporting a 12 percent increase in accidents between 21 and 36 months after cameras were activated compared with 21 and 36 months before without them. Numbers were based on state roads only, citing issues with uniform reporting on county and city streets.
"I think it's clear based on those findings that these cameras are not about safety," Brandes said.
Carl Callahan, Bradenton city clerk, said red-light cameras are not about the money. On average, the city receives about $3,000 per month from the cameras, which goes into the general fund and amounts to about 0.05 percent of the $80 million city budget.
"We never looked at this as a moneymaker," Callahan said. "It's 100 percent a safety issue for us."
Manatee County collected about $273,000 from camera citations in 2014, which does not include every violation issued.
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube and Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski agreed with Callahan, saying the cameras make people more conscientious and money made from the cameras is negligible to the county and the city, respectively.
"In the beginning, the funds we got couldn't even pay the costs of reviewing the footage," Steube said.
Radzilowski said they typically cut motorists a break, only issuing citations for about 60 percent of traffic violations flagged by the camera. He also said the cameras are invaluable in identifying those responsible for crashes.
"We had a major crash at Ninth Street West and Third Avenue West where an eyewitness swore a van ran the red light. We checked the tape and we saw it was another vehicle who did it," Radzilowski said. "Without it, we would've charged an innocent person with the huge costs associated with a crash like that."
Brandes is unconvinced.
"The numbers show that the majority of very dangerous accidents are not influenced by red-light cameras," Brandes said. "The people who run red lights and end up T-boning other vehicles don't stop because of them. We need to figure out how to affect those people."
Kate Irby, Herald online reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055.