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Using Straw Man, Palm Coast Ridicules County’s Opposition to Red-Light Cameras

| September 26, 2012

Palm Coast is sticking to its guns. (© FlaglerLive)

Mail travels a little slowly between the seven miles that separate the offices of Flagler County government with Palm Coast’s.

The evening of Sept. 17 the Flagler County Commission approved sending a letter to the city urging it not put up red-light spy cameras on State Road 100. The full letter was published that evening, and the city council had a meeting the next morning, but it was only Tuesday that Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts, at the end of a workshop, noted that “we did receive, finally a letter from Barbara Revels, the chairman of the county commission, imploring us not to install red-light cameras on State Road 100.”

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The council ridiculed the letter and took advantage of its somewhat poor writing to mis-characterize the county’s intentions.

“To me the argument was weak,” Netts said, summarizing the letter’s main thrust as this: “We’d rather have people driving unsafely than not.”

It was not an honest reading of the letter. At no point had Revels so much as implied that county residents would rather drive unsafely than face red-light cameras. She raised several issues with the cameras, none of them unusual, none of them new. Residents, Revels said, have written her that “they currently avoid shopping in Palm Coast’s core area due to the traffic and Red Light Cameras.” Revels did not want business activity inhibited by the cameras, never suggesting that drivers should have a freer hand to break the law. She mentioned the effect on tourists, who might also recoil at the surveillance devices, get a bad taste about the county, and spread negative words of mouth about the city and the county, hurting the county’s economically driven tourism efforts.

City council members, who can at times appear more smug than thoughtful, did not engage with any of the issues Revels brought up, erecting instead the straw man of law-breaking drivers only to bash it down.

“The idea that you wouldn’t shop in a city because it requires you to obey the law,” Council member Bill McGuire sneered.

“And quite frankly if you’re that bad a driver that you can’t obey the law, maybe I’d rather you shouldn’t” shop in Palm Coast, the mayor added.

Palm Coast’s red-light cameras have been in place since 2007. The cameras, operated by American Traffic Solutions, operate at 10 intersections. Palm Coast and ATS plan to increase the number of operating cameras (not intersections) to 52, which will guarantee Palm Coast close to $400,000 in revenue each year, because the city will make $700 per camera per month, whether the camera generates enough traffic tickets or not. For both ATS and the city, the only way to make the system lucrative was to drastically increase the number of cameras, particularly since the state now takes 52 percent of the revenue.

Still, Netts and fellow-council members still claim that it’s not about the money. Rather, they say, it’s about safety. But they don’t know whether the cameras are making the city safer. They only claim it is. They have no evidence. Palm Coast never conducted a scientific analysis of the effectiveness of its cameras. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t conducted such an analysis, nor have the county’s and city’s fire departments. All they have is anecdotal evidence, because analyses are expensive–and what analyses do exist elsewhere undermine Palm Coast’s claims that it is primarily about safety (rather than money). At best, studies show conflicting positives and negatives for red-light cameras.

One of the most authoritative studies on red light cameras was conducted by the Federal Highway Administration in 2005 (see below), found flaws in most studies conducted to date, while its own conclusions were that with red-light cameras, right-angle crashes decreased, but rear-end crashes increased, and “the positive effects were somewhat lower that those reported in many sources” previously. But there were slight positive effects–as long as the sites selected for cameras were calibrated to the higher incidence of T-bone crashes at those intersections. No such calibration is taking place in Palm Coast, because no rigorous analyses of crash data at various intersections has been conducted. And the study pointed to the need for more data.

Meanwhile, as red-light cameras have proliferated, so has a backlash, with many communities considering and turning down such cameras, or removing them after seeing them in action. Some (like the city of Westminster, Ma., which just removed them) cited the issues Revels did: the cameras don’t reduce accidents so much as cause a different type of accident, rear-endings especially. They inhibit drivers who bridle at automated cameras shooting license plates–thus accusing the car owner of an infraction, whether the owner was at the wheel of the car or not: those issues have led to a class-action federal suit in Florida, which is still pending. Two state appeals court in Florida have reached different conclusions about the legality of the cameras, likely leaving it to the Florida Supreme Court to settle the matter.

The legality and effectiveness of the cameras is nowhere near settled because questions about the cameras abound. However clumsily in its letter, the county was raising some of those questions when it asked the Palm Coast City Council to consider them. The council chose not to. “We’ve already taken action,” Netts said, and the council was not interested in further action.

Red Light Cameras Federal Study, 2012

30 Responses for “Using Straw Man, Palm Coast Ridicules County’s Opposition to Red-Light Cameras”

  1. Eileen G. Miller says:

    Do away with the cameras

  2. glad fly says:

    the shopping is much better in st augustine and daytona anyway and the gas is cheaper….that smug attitude is going to come back and haunt palm coast.

  3. Jackie Mulligan says:

    Sounds like a money making scheme to me.

  4. tulip says:

    Even IF it were true that rear end collisions were up, the T bones and other serious hits had decreased. If I had my choice, I would rather get hit in back then something more horrific. There are so many reports out there, some say rear enders had not increased, some say they have. My personal opinion is that more rear end crashes and other types are occuring because people are too involved with texting, cell phone use and I pads while they are driving and aren’t paying attention to the road.

    If a person is doing that while driving and causes an accident,. they should be heavily fined and some of that fine given to the driver that got hit.

  5. Eva Mowry says:

    Do away with the council!

  6. Lonewolf says:

    How can the percent increase in rear end crashes increase 21% with a STANDARD ERROR of 17%? Thats ridiculous

  7. Don Buckingham says:

    Do away with both!

  8. Economix says:

    At the macro level, the fines resulting from the red light cameras represent an additional tax on society to gain the benefit of safer roads. Whether or not the cameras actually make the roads safer is still in question but there is no doubt that the collection of fines can offset the high cost of installing and maintaining these high tech and costly devices.
    The question from a public policy standpoint is whether this tax represents an efficient and necessary use of resources. It should be considered whether red light running is a such a pressing problem that it needs to be addressed through the raising of additional funds. In other words, should greater taxes be raised to gain an even higher standard of safety than currently exist (if indeed the standard of safety is raised by erecting these cameras). One should also not ignore the fact that other regions in which Flagler County competes may not impose such a tax on its citizenry. Imagine the road infrastructure that supports commerce in China, India, and other developing nations. These economic regions typically undercut the costs of individuals and businesses operating in the U.S. Do we as Americans really need to fund this tax? The purpose of any law is not to have society adhere to those laws arbitrarily but to advance a public interest. The purpose of traffic laws is to ensure driver and pedestrian safety but yet it seems that those advocating for this tax are justifying it solely on the fact that the cameras ensure adherence to the law regardless of whether the cameras actually improve safety. I, for one, don’t believe red light running is a severe enough problem to impose an additional tax especially when the public policy intervention (installation of cameras) is so costly and has yet to have proven itself effective.

  9. Magnolia says:

    Palm Coast City Council sneer? You bet your ass they do.

  10. Clint says:

    Oh , I see…You can have SPY CAMERA’S on your side of town but not on my side of town. Now who spends a lot of time running back and forth on Rt. 100 all day and doesn’t want to get a ticket ? Who do we see speeding all the time over near Town Center ?

    • Rocky Mac says:

      I agree. I have been using Rt. 100 quite often lately going back and forth to therapy. It seems to me to be one of our safer roads. I have yet to see anyone run a red light. I can’t say the same for Palm Coast Parkway. You take your life in your hands when traveling that road. Why don’t they post deputies at the intersections instead of hiding in the bushes off Old Kings Road? To what catch someone doing 45 mph? Crashes happen at intersections not usually along roads like Old Kings. I too would like to see the traffic reports since the lights were installed. One other thing related to the lights, has anyone noticed how bright the flash is at night. When approaching a red light it is blinding. Just wondering. Maybe it is my old age setting in.

  11. Sal Passalaqua says:

    here is your answer people…

  12. I don’t usually agree with much the Palm Coast City Council has to say but in this case I do agree. I do not see any legitimate argument against red light cameras. If you don’t try to run the light it won’t be a problem for you. How simple is that.

  13. Emile says:

    Is the issue here about the city council being snide and smug? If so, I heartily agree. They should be ashamed. It’s no wonder that the county feels as though Palm Coast is their adversary.

    If the issue is the legitimacy of red light cameras making our intersections safer, then I would have to support the council. I don’t like the way they are going about it, though. More traffic studies would make us all feel more confident that this council is leading us in the right direction.

  14. John Boy says:

    I say do away with them and for a different reason. ATC is owned by two companies, Goldman Sachs and Bain Capital, both who have been screwing us for years. My wife got a postcard recently offering her and $8.00 settlement from Palm Coast for a class action suit. Mitt Romney was in charge of Bain when this shit started, he continues to screw us today. Just another reason for not voting for him.

  15. rich says:

    I think the people complaining are those who have been ticketed.. They save lives, deal with it and stop whining..

    • Samuel Smith says:

      You’re right, I’ve been ticketed. I was ticketed for someone else making a right turn on red, with a tag that looked a little like mine. That means I have to take a day off of work to defend myself in court for something that I didn’t do. This wouldn’t be an issue if the person who “ran” the red light did it in the presence of a cop and not a camera.

    • Nancy N. says:

      I’ve never been ticketed and I’ve been screaming bloody murder here and elsewhere about the cameras. I don’t like them. PERIOD. I don’t have to get a ticket to know that these things infringe my rights and make me feel less safe when driving in the intersections they are posted in.

      There’s no proof they save lives – see the study cited above. The only thing they are proven to do is make money for the city and ATS.

  16. DoubleGator says:

    Well I lived for 30 years in Orlando, a city a bit more cosmopolitan than Palm Coast or Flagler County, but a place where today there are far far less cameras watching you. Why? Money, or rather the lack of that being a motivating force to place a camera. They are intrusive. Let’s place a camera on each city commissioner’s car to see what’s up with them. Who they see and where they go. Why not? These cameras are appropriate at dangerous intersections. NO WHERE ELSE! We don’t need big brothers nor the city commisioners who approved this greed. Make to mistake, the real winners are the private leaches to whom the city commissioners farmed out this project. Please remember at the next election all those who voted for this… oops remember to vote them all out of office. And smile to the camera!!!

  17. BIKER says:

    This whole argument is ridiculous. Dosent our county commision have bigger fish to fry. Like huge budget deficits, higher taxes, and oh yeah bulding a jail without any plans. Very simply, drive safely and you dont have to worry about red light cameras,and if you dont like it shop elsewhere. Period! And county commissioners do your job and stop all the Bs.

  18. says:

    So Palm Coast say’s it is not about the money but I am quiet sure they have made more than enough to pay for the study to prove the camera’s are helping to prevent crashes but have not done so, Even better yet they also want to have more installed , does P.C really think that is the best way to prove they care about the people and not the money ? who are they kidding with 52 cameras all around P.C and pocketing almost 400.000. Its time to clean house people.

  19. Robbie says:

    Since SR100 is a state highway, does ATS have to get permission from the state to install the cameras on the state owned right of way?

  20. Jennifer says:

    My son is learning civics right now and one of the most important things a citizen can do is vote. Why – because your vote determines who will hold office. Its one thing to whine about red light cameras, its another to show your displeasure by voting them out of office. I would love nothing better than to hear some incumbents have to explain to the media why they were surprised to be voted out of office the evening of Nov. 6.

  21. BG says:

    Ok…I have to weigh in here. Let’s just call this what it is….a vehicle for the City of PC to generate more money without raising taxes, so the politicians can say…”look we haven’t raised taxes”
    I am a law enforcement officer and It has nothing to do with traffic safety whatsoever. You can make the stats reflect what you want them to reflect, depending on what side of the fence you are on. These lights do not decrease accidents; they may however increase the near misses when drivers slam on their brakes for fear of getting a $200 + fine. If the City were really interested in safety and not the almighty dollar they could request extra traffic control at intersections that may be an issue, just as citizens do when people are speeding down their block. Law enforcement will respond with extra enforcement, and it works.
    There are many glaring flaws with this red light system, not to mention the fact that the vehicle owner is being issued a moving violation regardless if he is driving or not, and then the burden is on him/her to prove he/she wasn’t driving. We (law enforcement officers) can’t do that!
    Here in my opinion is the worst part of this greed; through years of experience in traffic enforcement I have found that most people are good drivers, and because we are all human we make mistakes, most people who go through red lights do so as the light is changing and the motorist gets caught in limbo, makes a decision to go, and fails by a micro second or two to clear the intersection in time. Keep in mind that there is a delay before the other direction of traffic flow gets a green light. Very..very rarely does a motorist go flying through a steady red light, unless of course they just robbed the bank, in which case they could care less about a red light camera. Having said that we (law enforcement officers) get to utilize what we call discretion when on traffic stops. Most good drivers when stopped for a traffic infraction are apologetic and embarrassed …most have good records…and most deserve a warning and a lecture on paying attention. Believe me when I tell you, this has the same effect as the fine does without monetarily hammering the person, most driver’s get it. Now don’t get me wrong there are driver’s who are habitual offenders and need the hammer…but that’s what we are there make that decision.
    Traffic enforcement’s goal is about compliance for safety sake.. not as a sword to wield recklessly for monetary gains, just raise the mileage rate and be done with it.

  22. Reinhold Schlieper says:

    The City should get the right kind of camera: one that takes an image of the license AND an image of the driver. Someone might be exonerated simply by having his/her license compared to the camera’s image. Such cameras are in use also, albeit a bit more difficult and perhaps even costly to set up.

    • Jim says:

      this only applies if someone is operating your vehicle without your permission. Even then you have the responsibility of securing your vehicle so only you operate it.

  23. Clint says:

    I like the idea about putting camera’s in ALL public officials vehicles. ALL city workers vehicles, ALL school buses, ALL state issued vehicles, ALL city issued vehicles. Start a Web site were the public can watch everywhere these vehicles go. What ? You got something to hide ?

  24. Susana says:

    Please give me back the dirt roads!

  25. Kevin says:

    Just a way to give our over payed city manager a little more money I swear this city is so corrupt the best thing to do is spend as little money as we can in this town an spend it somewhere else . The red light cameras sign should read wreck zone ahead we have tons of elderly driving who have no reaction time another poor decision made by the useless city counsel

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