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Saturday, Apr 19, 2014

St. Pete’s obsession with red-light cameras borders on the ridiculous


The St. Petersburg City Council’s misplaced focus on red-light cameras borders on the ridiculous.

Several council members appear obsessed with debating the addition of fractions of a second to the yellow-light sequence and with demanding the city give refunds to drivers who misjudged those yellow lights and were ticketed. Remember, these are drivers who entered the intersection after the light turned red. In other words, they saw the yellow light as they approached the intersection and pushed on the gas pedal instead of the brakes.

In particular, council member Wengay Newton needs to move beyond this obsession. It flies in the face of the mounting body of evidence that the cameras make the roads safer.

The number of accidents at the 10 intersections in St. Petersburg with cameras is down 6 percent. Crashes attributed to running a red light are down 42 percent. The number of red-light citations issued has dropped 27 percent from the first year of their operation, an indication motorists are aware the cameras are watching and are adjusting their behavior.

Similar results are being recorded across the state. In Tampa, the program has been expanded.

No doubt, the program has needed fixes along the way. The appeals process was unfair, and the duration of yellow lights was shorter in some jurisdictions than is considered the norm. But the flaws are being addressed as part of a natural evolution toward a fair and safe process.

Unfortunately, the misguided obsession with the cameras doesn’t end in St. Petersburg. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, introduced a bill in Tallahassee to repeal red-light camera programs across the state. Not only does that ignore the evidence, it smacks of Tallahassee lawmakers dictating their will on cities and counties.

State lawmakers gave local governments the authority to use the cameras, and about 100 cities and counties took the plunge. They’ve faced fairness and safety questions, and whether their motives are tied to the added revenue the red-light citations bring their governments. Now that those revenues are declining as the number of citations declines, even that argument has lost its luster. The cameras should stay.