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Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Red-light cameras are a small price for safety

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:05 PM

Sunday was the 98th anniversary of the first electric traffic signal, installed in Cleveland. Of lesser note, I think, is the following day was the 98th anniversary of the first time someone gassed it through an intersection as the light turned red. At least that's what I've heard.

What we can be sure of is that red light cameras seem to be working. Mama Trib ran a big story Monday about the $2.26 million Tampa has received in fines from red light runners since November.

It is not about the money, though. The fines are just 0.007 percent of the city's $358 million general revenue fund.

"My position on this from the very beginning is that we are No. 1 or No. 2, depending on the time of year, on the list of most dangerous places for pedestrians or bicyclists in the country — not the state, but the country," Councilwoman Lisa Montelione said. "For me, this is about behavior change. It's a safety issue."

She speaks with a tone that all but shouts she isn't messing around.

"I stop for red lights," she said emphatically.

I am not a fan of Big Brother as an omnipresent companion, but this is an exception. The roads are dangerous, with more cars competing for less space on streets that always seem to be under construction.

A recent study rated Tampa's rush-hour traffic as the 5th worst in North America, so you can understand why people get tired of waiting. As much as I detest Tampa's traffic, those cameras do give me pause if I'm in a hurry. I don't think I'm alone.

This is purely anecdotal, but fewer drivers seem to be willing to risk a hit to the wallet just to zip through an obvious red light. Somewhere the brain processes the cost of saving a minute or two by speeding through versus the $158 fine. That's usually when you see brake lights.

"You drive these roads, I drive these roads. People have utter disregard for courtesy, let alone safety," Montelione said. "That has to change."

Technology isn't flawless, and critics say some drivers have paid the price for possible glitches. But I also remember being stuck at a green light while as many as five cars powered through on red.

One time at the end of that conga line, I blew my horn as a woman drove on past about 10 seconds after the light changed. She returned my greeting with the universal sign of disdain.

Either that or she was saying my column is No. 1.

You don't see as much of that now. Unless you believe there was an outbreak of civility on our roads, maybe technology forced what common sense or valium couldn't. The cameras are a little Orwellian, but on balance I'll take my chances with them.

"The red light cameras are performing the way they're supposed to be performing," Montelione said. "If you don't break the law, you don't have a problem. It's that simple."


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