Legislative report critical of red light cameras

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Red Light Camera programs throughout Florida came under criticism in a new report released by the non-partisan Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA).

However, other parts of the report suggested that red light cameras were successful in changing driver behavior, according to Noah Pransky of WTSP/10 News.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes called for the report after WTSP/10 News began investigating shortened yellow lights in RLC intersections in May.

  • In a June 2013 survey, 922 monitored intersections in Florida generated $119 million in annual revenue.
  • More than 70 Florida municipalities have RLC, but only 15 account for nearly half the all of the state’s RLC revenue. Tampa was No. 3, St. Pete came in at No. 7, Hillsborough County was No. 11 and Brooksville was at No. 15.
  • Most municipalities saw profits from the RLC programs, splitting the money evenly with RLC vendors. Remaining money usually goes to general revenue, with a remarkably few communities using the proceeds for road repairs, police or safety.
  • There was also a wide range of enforcement at RLCs. “Rolling right” turns and “careful & prudent” definitions vary across the state; few even have a definition. 
  • RLC should be a final step to deal with a red light-running problem, according to federal and state transportation groups.  But the study found a majority of Florida cities and counties did not consider other measures before approving profitable RLC cameras.

For each study showing that RLCs improve safety, the OPPAGA found another that said they have produced little or no change. Even though RLCs have lessened red light-running tickets at those intersections, crash data shows a mixed bag.

  • Fatalities are down 49 percent; sideswipe accidents are down 84 percent
  • Total crashes at RLC intersections are up 12 percent
  •  Side-angle crashes the “most commonly associated with red light running” are up 22 percent
  • At RLC intersections, rear-end collisions have jumped—35 percent statewide
  • Although numbers held steady across the state, Miami-Dade and Broward counties had the most increase

American Traffic Solutions, Florida’s leading RLC vendor, issued a statement Sunday in response:

American Traffic Solutions (ATS) is gratified that the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) report affirms that red-light safety cameras reduce fatalities and injuries at Florida intersections where they are deployed.  Furthermore, as the report straightforwardly acknowledges, we agree that improved data collection and analysis is needed to better understand the contradictory, inconsistent and incomplete information related to rear-end and side-angle crash data. 

In July 2013, Rep. Jeff Brandes sponsored several updates to the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act, which are just now taking effect. These included changes to the issuance of right-on-red violations and the appeals process.  In its report OPPAGA offers several additional recommendations to further improve the program statewide. We look forward to working closely with our customers and the legislature to enhance the effectiveness of Florida’s red-light safety camera law.

“A 49 percent reduction in the number of fatalities at red-light camera intersections is beyond significant,” ATS Spokesman Charles Territo told WTSP/10 News. “If a pharmaceutical company introduced a drug that cut your likelihood of dying from a terminal illness in half, they would be given the Nobel Prize.”

OPPAGA proposed a change in a municipality’s ability to make money from RLCs, which could mean losing millions of dollars for cities, towns and counties across the state.   

Brandes will preview the study Monday and the information will be officially presented by OPPAGA Thursday to the Senate Transportation Committee. Brandes said he will make RLC changes (or perhaps repeal) a legislative priority during the session.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.