Crashes rise at red-light camera spots, report shows
Published: Monday, February 10, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — A new independent state report showing that crashes have increased at intersections with red-light cameras will add momentum to an effort to ban the cameras’ use in Florida during the upcoming legislative session.
Here are some key findings from a new state report on red-light cameras:
--Total crashes at red-light intersections are up 12 percent, with side-angle crashes -- most commonly associated with red-light running -- up 22 percent. Rear end collisions were up 35 percent.
-- Fatalities are down 49 percent at the red-light camera intersections. Side-swipe accidents are down 84 percent.
-- Fine collections have increased 200 percent since 2010, with the state and local governments taking in $119 million in the last budget year.
-- Cities and counties received $56.4 million in red-light camera fines in the last budget year.
-- Of the more than 70 cities and counties with red-light cameras, just 15 account for half of the camera revenue. Miami was No. 1 ($5.8 million), Tampa No. 3 ($2.7 million) and Orlando No. 6 ($1.7 million.)
-- Red-light camera companies typically receive between $4,250 and $4,750 per month for each camera based on contracts and ordinances reviewed by the state.
Source: Florida Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Governmental Accountability
Lawmakers who oppose the cameras cited the report’s surprising finding that total crashes at red-light camera intersections are up 12 percent in saying they will press legislation to restrict the cameras this spring.
The report also found that fine collections have increased 200 percent since 2010, with the state and local governments taking in $119 million in the last budget year. Some $56 million of that total goes to city and county governments, which share the revenue with the red-light camera companies.
Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who requested the report, said it confirmed his contention that safety is not the primary concern for red-light camera proponents.
“I have consistently argued that red-light cameras are not being used for safety but are about generating revenue,” Brandes. “This report clearly illustrates the deficiencies inherent in red-light camera programs.”
The new report from the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Governmental Accountability (OPPAGA) found that side-angle crashes — most commonly associated with red-light running — are up 22 percent and rear end collisions are up 35 percent.
But the study also gave supporters of the cameras ammunition for retaining the devices, finding that fatalities are down 49 percent at the red-light camera intersections. Side-swipe accidents are down 84 percent.
Brandes said he will file legislation to repeal the cameras, although he is expected to face strong opposition from the local governments that say the cameras are working and that local governments should make the decision. His Transportation Committee will hear a presentation of the OPPAGA report on Thursday.
Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, who is sponsoring a House measure calling for a moratorium on new traffic cameras, agreed with Brandes.
“The red-light camera program really boils down to local governments profiteering and balancing their budgets on the backs of hard-working Floridians,” Artiles said.
The crash data is incomplete because many cities are not reporting their crash data at the red-light camera intersections to the state. But based on data on state roads where counties have installed cameras, OPPAGA reported an increase in crashes at the state-road intersections.
Of the local governments that responded to the survey, nearly eight out of every 10 said they were making a profit off the cameras, although 16 percent reported trouble in generating enough funds to pay the camera vendors. Most reported using the excess revenue for general government purposes, with 14 percent dedicated to public safety.
Although safety and transportation experts say red-light cameras should be the final safety countermeasure used at dangerous intersections, OPPAGA said the majority of local governments reported that they did not try any other options before installing the cameras.
American Traffic Solutions, the red-light camera company that operates the devices in scores of Florida cities and counties, seized on the decline in deaths, saying the OPPAGA report “affirms that red-light safety cameras reduce fatalities and injuries at Florida intersections where they are deployed.”
But the company also agreed that better data needs to be collected to properly evaluate the effectiveness of the cameras.
The cities and counties split their $56.4 million in fine collections with the red-light camera companies. After examining 36 contracts or local ordinances from 20 jurisdictions, OPPAGA said the camera companies typically receive between $4,250 and $4,750 per month for each camera.
Brandes also highlighted the fact that many local governments did not implement safety countermeasures before installing the cameras. An example of a safety measure is the installation of a sign warning motorists of the approaching light.
The House Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee has already passed a bill that would prohibit cities and counties from installing new red-light cameras after July 1 and would sharply limit the amount of revenue that local governments can collect from the devices.
The House bill would reduce the fines from the current $158 per violation to $83.
Additionally, cities and counties — which now receive $75 of the fine for locally enforced cameras — would no longer receive a share of the fines. Instead they would be allowed to levy a “surcharge” that would let them recoup “administrative costs” as well as pay their contractual obligations to the red-light camera companies that operate the systems.
Florida has had a statewide red-light camera law since 2010 when the Legislature passed the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, named after a Manatee County man whose wife fought for years to pass the legislation after her husband was killed when a motorist ran a traffic light.
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