Opinion

Fla. silently shortens yellow-lights so government can cash in big

red light camera
Photo Credit: Long Island Newsday

TALLAHASSEE — When it comes to red-light cameras in Florida, the focus is on the money.

“Red-light cameras are all about generating revenue, period,” said John Bowman, communications director of the National Motorists Association, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Claims of safety, he said, often are “wishful thinking on the part of red-light camera companies and the part of public officials who support the use of cameras.”

Last year, 73 Florida cities and counties reported issuing a total of 1 million red-light camera violations at an initial cost of $158 per ticket.

The majority of those tickets were simply paid by drivers without protest. The state got 52 percent of the revenue, and the remaining money was split between local governments and the private companies they contracted with to provide and operate the cameras.

American Traffic Solutions is one of the largest red-light camera companies operating in the state. They contend the explosion of tickets is evidence the cameras are functioning as important safety tools.

ATS gives generously to state lawmakers from both political parties. In 2012, ATS gave a total of $238,307 in campaign contributions with $60,000 going to both Florida’s Democratic and Republican parties, according to the Florida Division of Elections records.

Public officials contend the cameras make dangerous intersections safer and rely largely on a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles online survey to prove it.

But a comprehensive study by the Federal Highway Administration shows that while red-light cameras decrease the number of right-angle crashes at targeted intersections, they increase rear-end collisions to the extent that any safety benefit is nearly canceled.

Studies by independent researchers also show red-light cameras provide suspect results. For example, citing safety concerns, the Public Interest Research Group warns against using the cameras for revenue purposes, and the Florida Health Review found that red-light cameras increased crashes and insurance industry profits.

“Another way to look at this is that there are some very effective engineering solutions to unsafe intersections, and they don’t involve red-light cameras. They involve doing things like lengthening the duration of yellow-light times,” Bowman said.

But that’s exactly the opposite of what the Florida Department of Transportation allowed local governments to do when it silently changed the rules governing yellow-light intervals.

“A subtle, but significant tweak to Florida’s rules regarding traffic signals has allowed local cities and counties to shorten yellow light intervals, resulting in millions of dollars in additional red-light camera fines,” WTSP’s Noah Pransky reported on Sunday.

If a motorist tries to contest a citation, under law they risk not only paying a much higher fine but also risk having points added to his or her license and a conviction that could lead to higher insurance rates.

A new provision included in a recently passed transportation bill will make it even harder for motorists to overturn a questionable ticket.

Under new regulations, legal challenges will move from traditional courts into administrative hearings that will be overseen by employees of whichever local government runs the cameras.

“The law is pulling the rug out from under a person who wants to stand up for themselves against one of these tickets,” said Bowman.

Watch a report on this story here:

Published with permission from Watchdog.org

Contact William Patrick at [email protected]

Watchdog

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