Bradenton’s City Council took a prudent path on the contentious issue of red-light cameras this month by temporarily shuttering the devices and terminating the vendor’s contract in order to seek a new outfit to run the operation. That’s a far better outcome than eliminating the entire program.
Significantly, the city will control the camera locations, revamp the program by conducting workshops open to citizen input to determine the most dangerous intersections and reject places where the devices are “useless.”
Vice Mayor Gene Gallo, who expresses support for the cameras, decried the lack of city control over camera placements at a council meeting earlier this month — noting “three of the seven cameras are useless ... at intersections that clearly don’t represent a danger.” Furthermore, those three mainly ensnare drivers turning right on red — like at 15th Street West and Manatee Avenue, a huge money-maker but of little consequence for public safety.
With Bemis Smith dissenting, the council agreed the red-light cameras are a reasonable public safety tool — as we’ve opined for years. Smith’s long opposition to the devices appears to be softening, but he views the cameras as punishment for everyday citizens and he doubts they are a public safety measure.
That argument rings hollow when only lawbreakers are punished, and whether they are “everyday citizens” matters not. You do the crime, you pay the fine — simple as that.
The first and foremost function of government is ensuring public safety. Technology should be employed in this effort. Ten intersection cameras are operational in unincorporated Manatee County.
The number of fatalities caused by reckless and irresponsible motorists racing through a red light can only be quantified by a comparison of the figures before and after the installation of the devices. Even that is debatable.
But this is meaningful. 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 survey by a reputable organization cannot be ignored.
At the council meeting two weeks ago, Smith asked about getting “a reasonable sense that there is an actual reduction in red-light accidents.” The insurance institute’s survey provides solid evidence.
Councilman Gene Brown knows this issue all too well, having lost a good friend to a negligent red-light runner. He remains a steadfast advocate for the cameras and serves as a strong proponent on the council. His voice carries a great deal of weight.
One argument against a red-light camera program rests on tickets being issued because of the “milliseconds” between a light change and an image being shot of a vehicle entering an intersection on red. Is this a legitimate argument against the entire program? Or a red herring? If a driver clearly blows though a red light, a ticket is certainly warranted.
Milliseconds should not be the issue here, lives should.
As we’ve often stated, the value of red-light cameras extends beyond the intersections where they are installed — by instilling a change in driving behavior. With that result, noncamera intersections should be safer, too.
All of arguments against the cameras were debated for years until the Legislature finally agreed with the safety point and passed the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act in 2010. The law established uniform standards for use of red-light cameras.
Mark Wandall, a Manatee County resident, lost his life to a red-light runner almost 13 years ago, and his wife, Melissa, spent four years lobbying the Legislature before reaching her goal with adoption of the act.
Now president of National Coalition of Safer Roads, Wandall continues her crusade to improve roadway safety and cut down the number of injuries and deaths caused by traffic collisions. Kudos to Wandall for her dedication to public safety.
The Florida Police Chiefs Association and Florida League of Cities are among the prominent supporters of the devices, giving political weight to the issue.
For now, Bradenton will not issue red-light tickets since the cameras have been switched off. The workshops to determine specifics in a new program come next before the city puts out a request for proposals from vendors and then negotiates a contract, one more favorable to the city on revenue and control. Cheers to the council for keeping the faith in this public safety program.