No one likes getting that $158 ticket in the mail for a red-light camera violation, but a new report sent to the Florida Legislature indicates that, in general, the controversial cameras seem to work, discouraging drivers from making a last-second dash through an intersection and causing a crash.
The cameras continue to be unpopular with many, but the financial burden of the ticket — no points on a driver’s record are assessed — seems a price worth paying if the cameras save lives and prevent injuries.
In the report by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 41 law enforcement agencies — more than half of the 73 surveyed — said accidents were less frequent at intersections using red-light camera technology. Crashes were more frequent in 11 jurisdictions. The remainder saw no change or didn’t have enough information. The report covered accidents between July 2011 and June 2012.
Another important point: Most of the agencies reported that traffic safety throughout their jurisdictions had improved because drivers were more cautious approaching all intersections. That may prove to be the more significant finding over the long term.
South Florida’s numbers were mixed.
In Miami, where 98,062 violations were issued, accidents were down. In Fort Lauderdale, accidents were up, with 19,544 red-light camera violations issued. It’s hard to draw a conclusion about those figures, though, because the cities weren’t asked to detail exactly by how much accidents were up or down. That’s a weakness in the report.
But the general trend line is a positive one. And when lawmakers in Tallahassee convene this spring, they’ll be considering this new information as discussion of the cameras continues.
The topic remains a hot one even though Florida legalized red light cameras statewide in 2010. Opponents have argued that the cameras are a form of government intrusion, that the camera can’t tell when a driver is legally turning right on red and that the tickets amount to a cash grab by governments.
Focus on fair process
Legal challenges remain. Rep. Daphne Campbell, a Miami Democrat, filed legislation Friday seeking to end the use of the cameras saying they are unfair, in part because malfunctioning cameras can’t be cross-examined.
The Florida Supreme Court still plans to sort out whether some governments — including Aventura, which created the first red-light camera program in Miami-Dade back in 2008 — circumvented state traffic laws.
After the initial uproar about the local programs, the Legislature passed the law that went into effect in 2010, making red-light camera infractions a state violation. Today, disputed violations are heard by traffic court magistrates.
Some legislators, like Sen. Rene Garcia, a Republican from Hialeah who filed a failed measure in 2011 to ban the cameras, wonder if the popularity of the cameras is based more on money than safety.
True, state and local governments have seen big revenue increases from the tickets. Nearly a million of the tickets were issued by law enforcement agencies in the state last year.
But if this report is an indication of the true results, the time for fighting the cameras is past.The Legislature should concentrate on making sure the technology is being used to catch real scofflaws and ensure a fair process for disputing the tickets — not simply a rubber stamp.
In the end, it’s tough to argue with fewer accidents and greater traffic safety.