As the city Bradenton ponders the fate of red-light cameras at various major intersections, the Legislature is once again taking up the issue of repealing the state law that legalized the devices in 2010. Bills have been file in both chambers. The debate hasn’t changed one iota in all these years: Public safety versus government revenue.
Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan reported to the City Council this month about her department’s draft study of traffic accidents at the city’s seven camera intersections, noting the results are largely inconclusive. A new statistical study from state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles presents figures that support both sides of the debate just as the BPD report does. Advocates and opponents of the traffic cameras can cherry-pick the statistics to support their position.
Bevan described the local data as “convoluted,” an apt description.
This Editorial Board has long championed the devices as a public safety measure that should not be compromised over the argument that the cameras are primarily a revenue source for governments. Today, though, the debate is sharply focused on the safety issue, accident numbers and injury figures. To be fair, we’ll cite statistics that suit the differing views.
The state’s survey of 148 intersections in 28 cities and counties around Florida found vehicular crashes rose 10 percent from the time before camera installations to after they were activated. Red-end collisions increased by 11.41 percent (the blame should be placed on tail-gating and ignorance of a vehicle’s stopping distance, not the cameras and the motorist ahead coming to a stop).
Significantly, Bevan found the perilous T-bone, or angled, collisions fell by 7 percent in August this year compared with the same month in 2009, when the city’s seven cameras went online. Statewide, the figure went the opposite way, with angle crashes up by almost 7 percent.
However, crashes caused by red-light runners dropped 3.14 percent across Florida. That’s the primary reason to continue operating the cameras. Many motorists have learned the lesson that the penalty imparts, both financially and physically.
A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety surveyed 79 cities across the county and discovered fatal crashes increased by 30 percent at intersections where those red-light cameras were dismantled. That’s a big number. The state survey found fatalities doubled from five to 10 during the four-year study period.
Also important, pedestrians, bicyclists and other “non-motorists,” as the state survey explained, fared well with accidents involving them down by almost 20 percent. As Bradenton, Palmetto and Manatee County strive to become a more walkable community that also serves cyclists with safer routes, the Bradenton’s City Council should consider this when deciding whether to reactivate the cameras, which were switched off in August when the contract with the vendor was terminated.
This is the wave of the future, core values of the millennial generation and vital to the vibrant health and welfare of communities.
The state report attributes the rise in crashes can be somewhat traced to the 8.3 percent increase in vehicle miles driven across Florida. That, and the survey questions the reliability of the data since not all accident reports cite exact locations, thus discounting any correlation to camera intersections.
Manatee County has activated 10 red-light cameras. Jeff Bowman, the county’s code enforcement chief, told the Herald last fall, “The number of red-light runners has gone down drastically.” So yes, the cameras hold value, he said. That sounds like the best measure of success.
Melissa Wandall, now president of the National Coalition for Safer Roads, worked for years to get a camera law in honor of her husband, Mark, who was killed about 14 years ago by a red light runner. Citing Bevan’s figure of a 7 percent decrease in angle crashes at camera intersections, Wandall made a point that we share. Those types of crashes occur while the red-light runner are driving at a higher speed in those potentially deadly crashes.
Those red-light fines pumped almost $60 million into the state budget last year. Cities and counties received $53 million, though the red-light camera vendors took about half that.
How much is just one life spared death from a reckless and irresponsible red-light runner worth? Keep the cameras.