Florida bill advances that would OK statewide use of photo-red cameras

| 3/31/2008

A Florida Senate panel advanced a bill that would allow cameras to be posted throughout the state to nab red-light runners. This is the fifth straight year legislation has been offered in the state to set statewide standards for red-light cameras.

The cameras snap pictures of red-light runners’ vehicle tags. Tickets are mailed to the vehicles’ owners, regardless of who was driving at the time. Florida law neither permits nor forbids the use of red-light cameras to fine violators, but governments have been reluctant to post them because of privacy and other concerns.

The latest attempt to require local governments to adopt their own ordinances to put the program in place was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on a 6-2 vote. The panel killed the bill a year ago.

The bill was amended in committee to cut fines imposed on those who are caught on camera running red lights. Violators would face $60 fines – down from $125 in the previous version.

Cities and counties would split about $30 from fines with the rest being directed to a variety of state trust funds.

No points would be tacked onto drivers’ records, and insurance companies would not be notified.

Advocates say the bill is about safety and using technology in a helpful way. They point out that in 2005 red-light runners were linked to 100 deaths and 9,000 crashes in Florida.

Others point out that some communities in the state already have cameras installed, but many others want the state to set standards before they erect their own cameras.

Opponents question the claim that cameras are solely intended to keep people safe. They also say the process denies alleged violators the opportunity to confront their accusers.

“The motivation of every player in this deal is economics – whether it’s the local jurisdiction or the manufacturer: That’s not reasonable justification for doing that,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Others question the effectiveness of such intersection cameras, arguing they have the potential to distract drivers and cause more fender-bender accidents.

In fact, multiple studies have found that crashes actually increased in cities with red-light cameras, as motorists stopped abruptly at yellow lights to avoid tickets.

The bill – S816 – is awaiting further consideration in the Senate.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Florida, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor