A measure to repeal the state’s red-light traffic camera law will be pushed forward by lawmakers using a study from the Legislature’s non-partisan policy office to support the effort.
The report from the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability found there were fewer fatalities but more crashes at electronically monitored intersections, and that fines issued due to the technology cost motorists nearly $119 million last year.
In Palm Coast, based on monthly figures released last year, the city’s 47 cameras levy around $3 million in annual fines, of which the city keeps less than $400,000. The rest is divided between the state and American Traffic Solutions, the private company that runs Palm Coast’s cameras. Palm Coast is one of some 100 cities in 26 counties that have cameras, though proportionately, Palm Coast has more cameras then most: its 47 cameras represent 5 percent of the state’s total of 922, as of September.
The Florida League of Cities quickly contested the fairness of the state study.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said Monday that the study backs his contention that the state’s primary red-light camera law, the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act of 2010, hasn’t reduced safety, and that municipal and county governments are using the program to fuel their budgets.
“I think we should go all in for full repeal,” Brandes said during a press conference at the Capitol to highlight the study. “I think this data clearly shows that this program is not working as the Legislature intended, that we’re not seeing a reduction in accidents, (and) that we’re seeing a clear, dramatic increase in revenues that are being generated from this.”
Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, who has filed a measure (HB 4009) to repeal the 2010 law, said if legislators are unwilling to support repeal, state lawmakers should enact the series of recommendations included in the legislative study.
“I still firmly believe that this program should be repealed, but if we cannot repeal it I’m willing to modify it significantly,” Artiles said.
The study recommends that local governments demonstrate a safety need at each intersection where cameras may be installed–something Palm Coast has never done– that local communities should be required to follow standards on the length of yellow lights, and that revenue local governments generate from the cameras be restricted to public and traffic safety uses.
Artiles also proposes that the amount local governments can fine be reduced from $158 to $83.
The Florida League of Cities, in a release from its lobbyist Casey Cook, maintained that the cameras do improve safety and called the study “biased and inconsistent.”
“The report’s conclusion is not surprising given that it was requested by a legislator who sponsored a bill to repeal Florida’s red-light safety camera law,” the release said.
The release added: “It’s also curious how this report issued by the state legislature criticizes local revenue but makes no mention of eliminating the state portion of the fine.”
There is, however, no relationship between a legislator’s request for a study and the study’s conclusions: like the Congressional Budget Office or the Congressional Research Service, the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability is rigorously non-partisan.
No conclusive evidence that traffic cameras improve safety.
As with previous such studies, the OPPAGA study found more conflicting than conclusive evidence about the effectiveness of red-light cameras as safety devices. “As of December 2013,” the study found, “502 communities in the U.S. had red light camera programs. The experiences of other states and jurisdictions that have implemented red light camera programs vary widely. Many studies have concluded that red light cameras are effective at improving public safety, while some have drawn the opposite conclusion. Still many others have yielded inconclusive results about the safety effectiveness of red light camera programs.”
The study added: “Many studies have reviewed the red light camera safety effectiveness literature and concluded that there is no well-accepted consensus on whether red light cameras are effective at improving public safety because of wide variation in research techniques and considerations. […] Moreover, most red light camera effectiveness studies to date have been limited by methodological difficulties that raise questions about their conclusions.”
The study doesn’t itself determine if cameras have improved safety, and notes that most county and municipal governments in Florida started to use the cameras without first addressing alternative countermeasures.
In a key finding, the study concluded that “Crashes resulting in fatalities decreased at red light camera intersections on state roads but rear-end and angle crashes increased.”
The study elaborated: “When examining crashes by type at red light camera intersections on state roads, we determined that statewide, crashes resulting in a disregarded traffic signal citation decreased by 19 percent and those resulting in fatalities decreased by 49%. However, angle crashes (the crashes most commonly associated with red light running) increased by 22 percent at red light camera intersections. In addition, rear-end crashes (the crashes most commonly associated with the presence of red light cameras) increased statewide by 35 percent at red light camera intersections during the study period. Total crashes at these intersections also increased by 12 percent. It should be noted that there were significant decreases in crashes not typically identified as associated with red light running; these include sideswipe and head-on crashes.”
Cook said the use of the cameras should be left up to the local governments.
Brandes said his measure (SB 144) to repeal the 2010 law had been on hold pending the Feb. 7 release of the legislative study, and he hopes to have the bill moving in a couple of weeks.
The Senate Transportation Committee is expected to review a committee proposal on Thursday that proposes a freeze on the installation of new red-light cameras that would start July 1.
With violators charged $158, of which $83 goes to state, revenue from the fines has grown from $37.6 million in the 2011 fiscal year to $118.9 million last year.
The cameras were in use at 922 approaches to intersections in 79 jurisdictions — mostly by municipalities — in 26 counties, as of June 30, 2013. Miami took in the most revenue last year from red light runners caught on camera, $5.8 million.
Brandes added that he will ask Attorney General Pam Bondi to look into allegation of fraud involving RedFlex Traffic Systems, the Arizona-based firm that has installed and monitors red-light traffic cameras in Jacksonville and other cities.
The company is embroiled in a bribery scandal in Chicago, and the Chicago Tribune has reported that a fired RedFlex executive had accused the company of undertaking similar arrangements with officials in 13 states, including Florida.
A spokesman for Bondi said Monday afternoon that no request to investigate RedFlex had been made to the office.
Prior to the press conference, America Traffic Solutions, which markets the cameras, proclaimed the study affirms the safety of the cameras in reducing serious injuries, and that better data collection and analysis is needed to understand the information related to rear-end and side-angle crash data.
“In July 2013, (Sen.) Jeff Brandes sponsored several updates to the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act which became law and are just now taking effect,” America Traffic Solutions stated in a release. “These included changes to the issuance of right-on-red violations and the appeals process. In its report OPPAGA offers several additional recommendations to further improve the program statewide. We look forward to working constructively with our customers and the legislature to enhance the effectiveness of Florida’s red-light safety camera law.”
–News Service of Florida and FlaglerLive