Florida Senate Committee Votes to Outlaw Red Light Cameras

A Senate committee approved a bill that would outlaw the use of red light cameras on partisan lines Thursday morning.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has sponsored legislation for the past few years trying to outlaw or limit the use of red light cameras, which he says data show actually make intersections more dangerous and increase crashes. All his measures on the subject have failed.

The Transportation Committee was its first committee stop in the Senate, where it was approved 4-3. The House version has also been approved by one committee.

"Red light cameras are not being used to increase safety," Brandes said. "They are essentially a back-door tax increase."

Brandes cited statistics from a Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles report, which looked at crashes at intersection before a red light camera was involved and after. That study showed that after installation of red light cameras, total crashes at those intersections increased by 14.7 percent, rear-end crashes increased by 10.2 percent, incapacitating injuries increased by 29.3 percent and crashes involving non-motorists increased by 16.8 percent.

Crashes at Manatee County intersections with red light cameras increased by 9 percent, from 100 to 109; rear-end crashes increased by 11.4 percent, from 44 to 49; and incapacitating injuries increased by 60 percent, from 10 to 16. Fatalities remained the same, with one before and one after. Bradenton's information was not included in the FHSMV report.

However, the study notes that between 2011 and 2014 there was about a 50 percent increase in accidents statewide, which the study says can possibly be blamed on increased driving time in Florida, which increased 4.7 percent during that time period. The other possibility is an increase in accurate reporting information.

Sen. Oscar Braynon II, D-Miami Gardens, who voted against the bill, said saying red light cameras cause more accidents is a stretch, saying Florida's population keeps increasing and cell phone use while driving has become more and more common.

The fine for a red light camera ticket is $158, according to the bill analysis. Of that, $75 goes to local government and $83 goes to the state. Between June 2014 and July 2015, the state made $55.1 million off red light camera tickets.

Sen. Geraldine F. Thompson, D-Orlando, said they shouldn't be telling local governments what they can or can't do in the interest of public safety.

"We don't have enough money to put a police officer at an intersection 24/7," Thompson said. "But we can have a camera there 24/7."

Brandes said he believes that view is part of the problem. By having cameras assessing fines, he said people are losing the critical, human part of law enforcement. He said an officer can assess the factors of a situation, such as if a mother runs a light to get her children to school on time and is driving a car that suggests she's struggling financially.

"I believe he'd think, 'I'm a human, and this is a person who can't afford $158,'" Brandes said. "It's the cold, calculated nature of this that I find objectionable."

The committee also approved an amendment that would make the bill effective on July 1, 2019, so contracts with red light camera operators would have time to expire.

Manatee County operates eight red light cameras and the city of Bradenton operates seven, according to the FHSMV report. Manatee County assessed 9,970 red light camera violations between July 2014 and June 2015, and 7,630 of those were paid at the time of the report, resulting in $572,250 in revenue for the county. The city of Bradenton assessed 7,375 violations and 5,388 of those were paid, resulting in $404,100 to the city.

Both Manatee County and Bradenton representatives said the cameras also serve the important function of identifying suspects in vehicle thefts and who is at fault in traffic crashes.

A few city and county representatives from around the state voiced opposition to the bill at the hearing, and Brandes said it's because local municipalities didn't want to see that revenue stream dry up.

"They don't get up here and talk about safety, because the data doesn't support that," Brandes said.

Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055.

Created: Feb 9th, 2016 at 3:31 pm