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Thursday, Sep 18, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Put the brakes on red-light cameras

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Driving through Temple Terrace the other night, I was approaching a traffic light when it turned yellow. It was quick-decision time, because I happened to be in a sort of motorist no-man’s land.

Temple Terrace has lots of traffic cameras. While I was close enough to maybe make it through safely, it wasn’t a sure thing I’d make it before the light turned red.

But there also was a car coming up from behind and that driver wasn’t slowing. He clearly expected me to power on through so he wouldn’t have to stop at the light.

Well, too bad. I stopped.

It was a good thing, too. I probably saved myself a $158 fine because the red light would have caught me.

The guy behind me didn’t see it that way, though. He laid on his horn as he stopped hard just a few feet from my rear bumper. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thanking me for saving him from being fined.

Part of me doesn’t blame him for being ticked, but things like this are just the way of the world now that Smokey has a telephoto lens. Cameras are just about everywhere these days.

So is the opposition to them.

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A challenge against red-light cameras was brought before the Florida Supreme Court last month, and there is growing movement in the Legislature to outlaw them completely. State Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg has filed legislation to that effect.

I’ll admit thinking cameras were a good idea when the Legislature approved them three years ago for use throughout the state, but now I’m more on Brandes’ side. There are just too many flaws in the system, starting with the fact that challenging a ticket can be expensive. Violation notices inform drivers that if they pay the fine, no points will be added to their record. But if they challenge and lose, the fine increases.

That sounds like extortion.

The camera also has no way of knowing who was driving when the offense occurred. The ticket is sent to the address registered on the license plate. It doesn’t know if your kid was driving, or if you loaned your car to someone with a lead foot. All it knows is that someone owes $158.

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The Florida Department of Highway Safety reported a 56 percent drop in crashes at intersections where cameras were in use. That would seem to prove they are accomplishing their purpose.

Critics complain, though, that there is another agenda. According to Pewstates.org, Florida collected more than $100 million in red-light fines last year. In other words, cameras have become a major revenue source for cities.

Also, the company supplying the technology to Florida has launched a major lobbying effort to kill Brandes’ bill. I mean, are the cameras about safety, or are they just a big municipal and corporate cash grab?

Brandes has complained the fines amount to a back-door tax increase, and I think he’s right.

We all want the streets to be safe, but we also don’t need to make a choice that it might be safer to get a ticket than it would be to obey the law.

Given all the problems, I don’t think there’s any way to fix this system. Ditch the cameras.

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