A number of thoughtful recommendations about how to improve the state’s red-light camera program are included in a government report issued this week.
Among them are forcing local jurisdictions to prove a safety need for the cameras at a particular intersection before installation, establishing penalties for cities and counties that incorrectly calibrate yellow-light intervals, and requiring surplus revenues from the cameras be spent on public safety measures.
The recommendations should be considered by state and local jurisdictions looking for ways to improve the program, which is greatly reducing the number of fatal crashes attributed to red-light running.
What lawmakers should ignore is a bill by state Sen. Jeff Brandes to kill the program altogether. Brandes uses select findings in the report in an attempt to make a case that the program is unsafe and amounts to little more than a money grab by local jurisdictions. It is disappointing that Speaker Will Weatherford is making similar claims.
The report is just one snapshot of the red-light program, and is careful to point out that the lack of standardized crash reporting by local jurisdictions makes it difficult to draw definitive safety conclusions. That’s why one of the recommendations by the state agency behind the report, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, is to require better reporting of crash data.
Brandes and other red-light camera opponents are seizing on a 12 percent increase in total crashes at the intersections studied in the report, which was limited to data collected on state roads. But the number of fatal crashes dropped nearly 50 percent.
As the report says, the program’s results vary among the 79 jurisdictions using cameras. In Pinellas and Pasco counties, for example, rear-end crashes increased about 10 percent over the past three years. In Hillsborourgh County, rear-end crashes decreased 26 percent.
The report says one factor for the mixed results may be signage, lane markings and speed limits as motorists approach an intersection with cameras. Earlier warning signs may reduce the sudden braking as lights turn, an easy fix local jurisdictions should make.
Brandes, a Republican who represents mid-Pinellas County and South Tampa, likes to portray the revenues generated by the program as some sort of nefarious source of income cooked up in a back room to pad government budgets. In reality, the money comes from people who enter intersections after the light turns red, putting innocent motorists at risk. The millions generated are justification for the program, not an indication it should be scrapped.
The state is within its right to demand uniformity among local jurisdictions in the way the cameras are installed and operated. But state lawmakers had the good sense when creating the program in 2010 to give local jurisdictions the authority to make decisions about whether to use the technology. Local governments know their safety needs better than Tallahassee. And that’s where the authority should rest, not with a state lawmaker who thinks he should dictate what every community can do.
Brandes’ attempt to kill the program should be run off the road.